England kick off their winter tour with an ODI series on Friday, but with the first Test match less than two weeks away, how well will the batsmen fare in what promises to be a compelling winter of Test Cricket? The first of two Tests against Bangladesh gets underway in Chittagong on the 20th of October, with the second Test in Dhaka beginning on the 28th. The squad then head to India for a gruelling five match series. England have announced a fresh looking squad for the Bangladesh series, with three potential debutants hoping to earn their first cap and a veteran who played his last Test 11 years ago:
Alastair Cook (c), Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Gareth Batty, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler (wk), Ben Duckett, Steven Finn, Haseeb Hameed, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
England look light in the batting department but the biggest challenge will be the slow, low, turning pitches of the sub-continent. After being ripped apart in the summer by Pakistan’s Yasir Shah, Trevor Bayliss will be working hard to improve the squad’s technique against spin. Shah took 19 wickets in the four match series on pitches that offered him no real help. 10 wickets at Lords on a benign surface exposed England’s weakness, and both Bangladesh and India will seek to do the same. India’s right and left arm combination of Ashwin and Jadeja made short work of New Zealand in their most recent series, and they will look to take that confidence into the clashes with Alastair Cook’s men.
The current Test squad doesn’t boast a great deal of subcontinent experience. The graph below compares the players’ Test averages against their averages on sub continent pitches only:
Once again, England will be very dependent on the two most senior batsmen, captain Alastair Cook and Joe Root. Cook, who averages an impressive 65.59 in the sub-continent, will be expected to lead from the front. He will have fond memories of both of the countries on the tour; he scored a century on his debut against India in 2006 and captained his first Test on the 2010 tour to Bangladesh after Andrew Strauss was rested. Joe Root, like his captain, also made his debut in India, scoring 73 in Nagpur in 2012. Since then, he’s built up an impressive average of 75.2 in the notoriously spin-friendly conditions. England will rely on their experience in the conditions to build some big scores and give their bowlers something to work with.
The spotlight will be on Gary Ballance as he starts the tour on the back of a poor series against Pakistan, where he averaged just 27.85 in seven innings. The pressure is on for him to show the form he had at the start of his England career where he scored 590 runs in his first 10 innings. He’s fared well against India in the past but is yet to play them on their own turf. The selectors will be hoping that he can repay their faith.
With Alex Hales ruling himself out of the Bangladesh series over security concerns, and rumours that he’ll miss out on the India series, there is an opportunity for two bright young talents to stake a claim for the vacant opening spot. After a breakout seasons on the county circuit, both Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameed and Northants ace Ben Duckett will be competing for a place in the side, but how do the two compare? Both batsmen had strong domestic campaigns, Duckett leads the way with 1338 runs at an average of 60.81, including a mammoth 282 not out against Sussex which could have been more were it not for rain stopping play for the final two days. After beginning his career as an aggressive middle order batsman, he’s taken well to opening the batting. His more aggressive intent with the bat would suit the more positive brand of cricket that Trevor Bayliss is trying to encourage. Duckett capped off a wonderful season by becoming the first player to win the Professional Cricketers’ Association Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in the same year. Haseeb Hameed also enjoyed success this season after becoming the youngest Lancashire batsman to score 1000 runs in a single season, as well as being the first to score two hundreds in a Roses match. Finishing an excellent season with 1198 runs at an average of 49.91, the 19-year-old self confessed “modern-day Boycott” has a more traditional approach to his run-scoring, taking his time to craft big scores.
Despite scoring less runs, Hameed has being playing in Division 1 against better opposition, which might just give him the edge over Duckett. Either way, we’re expecting bright futures for both batsman.
In summary, it will be an interesting few months for Alistair Cook and his men, with his team looking to strike the right balance between experience and young talent. Without much depth in the side it seems likely the youngsters will get a chance to flourish.