England face testing touring decisions for Bangladesh and India | Vic Marks

The selectors have a tricky task for the two winter series with some players still to confirm they will go to Bangladesh and an extra spinner for India yet to stand out

Just a few loose ends remain of the international summer. On Sunday there is the final one-day international in Cardiff and if England win – or tie – against Pakistan this will be the first time since 1998 that the 50-over team have been unbeaten in an English season – thanks to Liam Plunkett smashing the last ball of the first match against Sri Lanka for six back in June.

Then there is Wednesday’s T20 match at Old Trafford, which England are obviously eager to win since they have retained all their big guns. Whatever the opposition – and there is no doubt now about the limitations of Pakistan – England are a formidable white-ball side. But for a calamitous final over in April in Kolkata they would be World T20 champions; now they are among the favourites for next year’s Champions Trophy.

After all the talk at the last 50-over World Cup, when England said all the right things but performed abysmally, they really do play with freedom now – in part, I suspect, because Trevor Bayliss does not talk too much. He lets them get on with it, which is quite a knack for a coach. So the focus turns to a challenging winter. Bangladesh is looming mostly for non-cricketing reasons, though they are an improving side. Then there are five Tests in India. The selectors have work to do.

For the three ODIs in Bangladesh selection should be easy since there are so many in-form candidates but there are also those who could be legitimately rested: Joe Root and Moeen Ali most obviously, Alex Hales (if selected for the Test squads) and Chris Woakes possibly.

There remains the chance that some players will opt not to tour Bangladesh. Alastair Cook, an imminently expecting dad, is understood to have declared he will tour. By contrast Eoin Morgan, the ODI captain, has given no such assurance and is believed to be reluctant to go.

It is a tricky position for the players. No doubt friends and families urge caution but there has, nonetheless, been an oddity in their stance. Everyone expresses absolute confidence in Reg Dickason, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) security adviser, who has told them that it is safe to go, as has their ultimate boss, Andrew Strauss. Yet there is a reluctance to commit.

The selectors need answers once the match in Cardiff is over. The choices for their Test squad will take longer to make – assuming there is not a mass withdrawal by the ODI men. For Test cricket they are more likely to look beyond the usual suspects. Haseeb Hameed, the young Lancashire opener, may receive rapid elevation as a possible alternative to Hales. Tom Westley of Essex has made a stash of runs this season, including a timely double century against Worcestershire this week with Cook looking on. How much are these runs devalued by being made in the Second Division?

Equally tricky is the selection of a third spinner to accompany Moeen and Adil Rashid. Here there is no simple solution. Zafar Ansari of Surrey was selected for last winter’s tours but had to withdraw because of a nasty thumb injury. He is an intelligent all-round cricketer but has been hampered by injury in 2016. On the circuit Ansari is seldom regarded as a better spinner than his veteran captain, Gareth Batty, or even Somerset’s Jack Leach. Ollie Rayner has enjoyed a productive season for Middlesex; Liam Dawson has been in England’s white-ball squads but his record with a red one is very modest.

In this instance the proliferation of candidates actual betrays the dearth of options. Ideally England would prefer a left-arm spinner to complement Moeen and Rashid, especially against an India side which contains predominantly right-handed batsmen.

The counties have some tough decisions to make about the future as well but unlike the selectors they may not reach their conclusions purely on the merit of the arguments. Apparently the drive for the city franchise scheme for the T20 is gaining ground – or should we say the bribe for the scheme? It seems that the ECB is imitating the ICC of a couple of years ago by using its financial clout to get its own way.

Some clubs – such as Northamptonshire, who triumphed so brilliantly in this year’s T20 – are so impoverished that they feel compelled to accept the money that will be on offer not to play cricket at their grounds. Yorkshire, desperate to keep their name, are in a peculiar position since their survival has been dependent on the infusion of more than £20m from Colin Graves, who is now the chairman of the ECB. So there may be a reluctance to vote against him from that quarter.

The ECB is desperate for a new product to sell to bolster its income from TV rights. No doubt we will be informed of a wonderful new “brand” for T20 cricket, even though the “brand” that sells T20 best in this country exists and is already a century old – the Roses match, Middlesex v Surrey or Gloucestershire v Somerset. The fans love the local derbies.

Even if the scheme works – and there is no guarantee that a magic wand can be waved to emulate the undoubted success of Australia’s Big Bash – there will be great swaths of the country denied a taste of the best action as the existing NatWest Blast dwindles towards irrelevance.


Vic Marks

The GuardianTramp

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