Rotation in prospect as England seek to fine-tune squad options before ICC deadline
England are prepared to give opportunities to fringe players and tweak their usual plans in this week’s T20I series against Pakistan, which Eoin Morgan has said they are treating as their “last chance” to look at options ahead of October’s T20 World Cup.
The ICC requires teams to submit a provisional squad for world events a month before the start of each tournament, which means this is England’s last T20I series before that deadline in mid-September. While they will have the chance to fine-tune in Bangladesh and Pakistan before the World Cup starts in the UAE in October, this is their final opportunity to test fringe players.
England are without a handful of first-choice players in the series: Ben Stokes was rushed back from his finger injury to captain the makeshift ODI squad last week and has been given a short break ahead of the India Test series, and while Jofra Archer is due to travel to the Ageas Bowl with the Sussex squad on Friday, he is not expected to make his return from elbow surgery this week as things stand. Reece Topley remains injured, while seven of the group who entered self-isolation after the third Sri Lanka ODI are either recovering from the virus, rested, or not selected.
“Not knowing what is ahead of ourselves, we need to look more into a little bit more into strength in depth,” Morgan said. “You’ll see us giving opportunities and going through various little options in the next three games for possible injury replacements for certain players within the group.
“100 percent [there will be more rotation]. The priority throughout the series will be to give guys opportunities and treating it as though it is our last chance to look at guys in various positions. I still think the roles will be the same, but there will rotation throughout the squad.”
That could mean opportunities for Saqib Mahmood with the new ball, and for Lewis Gregory as a specialist finisher or a seam-bowling allrounder, following their impressive showings in the ODI leg of Pakistan’s tour. Morgan was forced to watch that series on TV while in self-isolation but said that both players had furthered their chances for inclusion in the T20I side, and described England’s approach to the series as a “compliment” to the group that had won the 2019 World Cup.”They’ve done themselves the world of good, to be honest,” Morgan said. “The one thing you look at when guys come in and out is a marked improvement from the time they [first] get the opportunity to the time the next opportunity arrives. The two guys mentioned and [James Vince] were outstanding.
“I think everybody within the group was extremely proud to watch them play like they did, simply because it’s the biggest compliment you can pay to anybody who played in the World Cup group, and the way we’ve played in the last five years has had such an impact on the game. Guys recognise that opportunities are few and far between but when they do come, the method that the team plays is starting to resonate with people around the country, which is great.
“Over the last six years, with the amount of cricket we play, you don’t get to enjoy the cricket as much as you’d like. But sitting back and watching the guys [and] the way the guys played was hugely satisfying. They played an exciting brand of cricket, they really enjoyed themselves, and the result came with that. It was all-round hugely beneficial.”
Morgan highlighted death bowling as an area for improvement last month, after admitting England had not been tested at the end of the innings during their 3-0 clean sweep against Sri Lanka, and that means there will be pressure on both Chris Jordan and Tom Curran to perform, not least after Morgan name-checked Tymal Mills as an alternative option for the World Cup last month.
“I think everybody is going to get an opportunity to bowl at the death – probably not the spinners, but certainly the seamers,” Morgan said. “When you look at an area of improvement, you don’t always look at your best guys to do it when you’re trying to plan ahead. Everybody will have a chance… it’s an opportunity in these three games to look at guys under pressure.”
As for Stokes, Morgan admitted that his injured finger “hasn’t come along as he and the medical team would have liked” and that he was missing the T20I series as a precaution.
“He dug us out of a huge hole coming back early from his injury and I think leading the way he did is a huge compliment to the leader he is within our side, how mature he has been as a leader and now a captain,” he said. “We gave him every chance to be fit. He hasn’t played a lot of cricket and he’s had some R and R [rest and relaxation] at home and feels quite fresh. The finger hasn’t come along as he and the medical team would have liked, so it’s important it’s as good as it can be for the Test matches against India.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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