If Sam Curran plays ahead of Joe Denly, it’s a sad indictment

If Sam Curran plays ahead of Joe Denly, it’s a sad indictment of our England Test side

  • England look set to pick bowler Sam Curran ahead of batsman Joe Denly
  • I always felt the best look and feel for a side was to have five frontline batsmen
  • Followed by an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper-batsman and your four best bowlers
  • The batsmen score runs, the bowlers take the wickets anything else is a bonus

Call me a traditionalist, but when I look at one of the permutations England are considering for this second Test, I worry about the direction our red-ball cricket is heading.

If England pick Sam Curran ahead of Joe Denly, the selectors are basically saying that they trust one of their all-rounders to score runs over one of their frontline batsmen. Maybe, in this instance, they are right. But it’s an indictment of our Test team.

I always felt the best look and feel for a Test side was to have five frontline batsmen, followed by an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper-batsman and your four best bowlers. The batsmen score the runs, the bowlers take the wickets and anything else is a bonus.

If England pick Sam Curran ahead of Joe Denly, it’s an indictment of our current Test team

Look at the great West Indies side of the 1980s, or the Australians under Steve Waugh. Everyone understood their roles. There’s rarely any need to reinvent the wheel.

But if Denly is left out, England will be taking on Australia with three specialist batsmen — Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Joe Root. You’re then moving Ben Stokes to No 4, which may just work because, after Root, he probably has the best technique in the team. But what about the rest?

The problem with asking all-rounders — and I include wicketkeepers in that category — to do the job of specialist batsmen is that they haven’t trained their brains in the same way. They’re used to coming in at No 6 or 7, batting with the tail and counter-attacking for 30 or 40.

What they’re not programmed to do, in the same way as a specialist, is to bat all day, which is what this England side needs right now.

Their mindset differs in another way, too. If you have another string to your bow, it removes some of the onus on you to score runs. Look at Jonny Bairstow. One of the reasons he’s so keen to keep the gloves is because it takes the pressure off his batting. And if you’re Curran, you’ve always got your bowling to fall back on.

If Denly is left out, England will be taking on Australia with only three specialist batsmen

Some people might argue that England have tried it the other way. They’ve tried picking specialist batsmen and it hasn’t worked. That’s fine. But be careful what you wish for.

They may still stick with Denly, of course, but if they don’t they’ll have Jos Buttler at No 5, a guy with five first-class hundreds from 154 innings, and Curran potentially as high as No 7.

How many first-class hundreds has he got? That’s right — none.

When you throw Ben Foakes into the mix, you’ve got a situation where four or five of the blokes considered to be the best red-ball batsmen in the country are essentially all-rounders of one kind or another. That’s a dangerous place for a Test side to be.

There’s also an argument that having Curran in the side gives you plenty of bowling options, but how many do England need?

With him in the team, they’ll have six, plus Root’s off-breaks. I can see why that might work in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka, where England won 3-0 last winter, but not in England.

Ben Stokes is set to be No 4 and after Joe Root, he probably has the best technique in the team

When it comes to picking the best side here, I want at least four guys — preferably five — whose only serious role is to get runs for the side. I don’t want them to be able to take refuge in a couple of wickets or catches. I want them to feel as if their day is over once they’re out. That kind of thing tends to focus the mind.

And I want guys who are capable of adapting with the bat — whether it’s 20 for two and the ball’s nipping around, or 200 for two and they can take an attack apart.

I’m not denying that Curran is a super cricketer who has had an impact on almost every Test he’s played. The way he batted last summer against India was one of the keys to England’s 4-1 win.

But Root and Trevor Bayliss need to be careful about the kind of team they’re picking. It’s one thing to have a deep batting line-up against Sri Lanka’s spinners and medium-pacers. Against Australia’s quick bowlers, those guys might be less inclined to hang around. Four down can become all out quite quickly — look at the second innings at Edgbaston.

England have got plenty of thinking to do. And the answer may not be as clear cut as some people seem to believe.

 

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