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Following England’s second Ashes whitewash in their last three tours of Australia, it is clear that a certain degree of change to the side is necessary. Whilst England must work hard to maintain an experienced core of the side and thus avoid wholesale changes, there are a number of players from county cricket who could potentially step into the side over the coming summer and beyond.
The focus of the team should now be placed upon the new, youthful generation of England cricketers – the nucleus of the team must reflect this. After his solitary Ashes test in Sydney, I believe Gary Ballance must be afforded time to cement his place at number five in the England side. He is a supremely talented batsman, averaging over 50 in first class cricket and scoring over 1000 first class runs for Yorkshire last summer. Ballance has the ability to be an England great, and must be given an opportunity to showcase his talents.
In regards to the current team, despite being England’s most talented batsman for nearly 10 years, I believe Kevin Pietersen should step down from the England set up. He has failed to kick on from starts made in each test match; in previous years, this could be overlooked, safe in the knowledge that a big score would be coming soon. However, these big scores have dried up, and he is beginning to look like a passenger in this England side. Looking towards a replacement for Pietersen, I would give serious consideration to Middlesex’s young batsman Sam Robson. Perhaps unlucky not to obtain a squad spot in the winter tour in Australia, Robson is an old school orthodox batsman, perfectly suited to grinding out difficult runs when the going is tough, something this England side has found exceptionally difficult over the past two years. Although traditionally an opening batsman, I would play Robson at four, affording him some protection from the new ball.
Graeme Swann’s retirement has left England with a noticeable gap in their side – he was, quite simply, a world class spinner capable of attacking and keeping the opposition batsmen under pressure. It would be naive to think that we will find another spinner in his mould, and the focus must be placed upon finding and developing young spinners in county cricket for the future. For this reason, I would currently pick Monty Panesar – he is a highly experienced cricketer with over 150 test match wickets and can fit straight into the England set-up, affording younger spinners more time to develop in the less pressurised zone of county cricket. Simon Kerrigan and Scott Borthwick will be waiting in the wings, but Kerrigan must demonstrate an ability to bounce back from his humiliation in last year’s Oval test match whilst Borthwick must focus a great deal more on his bowling before either can be considered a genuine test match level spinner.
As for the quick bowlers, Steven Finn must not only return, but be the cornerstone around which this England bowling unit is built. Although he has gone astray over the past year, he harbours genuine pace and the ability to move the ball, as well as the helpful knack of picking up wickets at very regular intervals. He should be given support and an opportunity to demonstrate why he was once considered England’s brightest light. Tymal Mills, the young Essex pace bowler has been discussed over the past weeks, and he represents a great prospect for the future, but must be allowed to develop at county level before being exposed to international cricket. Finally, the spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali should be considered as a slightly left-field choice for number three. He would allow additional balance to the side, and would offer a helpful spinning back up. I would, however, be very surprised to see his name in the test match squad.
VERDICT: Ballance, Finn, Panesar and Robson to step in to the test side, with Mills with Kerrigan and Borthwick to continue development in county cricket before moving to the test team at some point in 2015. Overall, I have gone for a balance of youth and experience within the team, allowing the younger players to develop with the support of the senior players.
MY TEAM VS SRI LANKA: Cook (c), Root, Bell, Robson, Ballance, Stokes, Prior (wk), Broad, Anderson, Finn, Panesar.