England’s winter touring programme began this week as they headed off to the UAE for the Twenty20 World Cup, with the big one — the Ashes — following hot on its heels.
Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, Lawrence Booth and Richard Gibson are joined by former England batsman Mark Butcher as they consider six crucial questions for the next few months and beyond.
England have begun their winter programme and our experts have their say on their chances
1) JACK LEACH AND DOM BESS ARE THE TWO SPINNERS IN THE SQUAD. IS THAT THE RIGHT CALL?
BUTCHER: Leach had to tour, but England are no wiser as to whether he can be used as a lone spinner along with three seamers. They had the chance to trial that against New Zealand in June, and didn’t. He’s good in the fourth innings, but can he hold the game up on the first three days?
The same could be asked of Matt Parkinson, who isn’t in the squad. His twin brother Callum — the Leicestershire slow left-armer — is underrated, gets the ball through quicker and flatter, and is very accurate.
Jack Leach is England’s No 1 spinner but has endured an uninspiring summer at County level
LLOYD: In Australia, you need a wrist-spinner, and Shane Warne likes Parkinson. I wouldn’t have been averse either to Mason Crane, whom I’ve seen bowl well for Hampshire. Parkinson may have meant a long tail, but you need to take 20 wickets.
GIBSON: Although Danny Briggs came up on the rails with solid performances for county champions Warwickshire, Leach and Bess were clearly viewed as the men in possession having featured earlier this year.
Yet Leach managed only 18 wickets in 10 Championship outings for Somerset, while off-spinners tend to struggle in Australia. Parkinson should have gone as a potential match-winner, but lacks the batting and fielding ability of slow left-armer Briggs.
BOOTH: Parkinson should be ahead of Bess. Leach is the first-choice spinner but should have been treated better after taking 28 wickets in six Tests in Sri Lanka and India last winter.
Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson should be ahead of Dom Bess but England did not gamble
Parkinson would have been a gamble, but England needed to take risks to stand a chance in Australia, and his first-class record — 102 wickets at 23, with an economy rate of 2.77 — is outstanding for a young leg-spinner.
HUSSAIN: Leach becomes No 1 spinner, and I’d probably have selected Parkinson, too. He still bowls a bit slowly and doesn’t have much variation, but he gets good drift and turn. They have taken Bess because they want to balance the side with an off-spinner who can bat, but I’m sure Joe Root can be a second spinner.
2) ARE YOU HAPPY WITH A TOP THREE OF BURNS, HAMEED AND MALAN?
GIBSON: It arguably picks itself. England had to make changes in the summer, and Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan will arrive in Australia upbeat. Hameed plays the ball late, an important trait on quicker pitches, while Burns and Malan have decent Ashes memories.
HUSSAIN: I’d stick with that trio, though I’m a bit concerned about Hameed’s low hands on bouncy Australian pitches. In terms of back-up, I was impressed by Warwickshire’s Rob Yates during the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s, and everyone speaks highly of Tom Haines at Sussex.
England’s top order of Rory Burns (R), Haseeb Hameed (L) and Dawid Malan (not pictured) will arrive in Australia upbeat
LLOYD: For me, it should have been Daniel Bell-Drummond, Zak Crawley and Malan. Why would I leave out Burns and Hameed? Because you need conventional players. Burns’s technique is anything but, and Hameed has a first-class average of 32 and a strike-rate of 38 — he allows the game to meander.
You can’t afford to be 210 for four when the second new ball arrives: that means 250 for six, and 290 all out. Hameed’s good tour of India was ages ago.
BUTCHER: It shouldn’t differ from the back end of the India series. Australia will have respect for Burns because of the way he played Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood in 2019.
I like Malan at three and, as he showed with his hundred at Perth four years ago, his game is suited to Australian conditions. Hameed should keep the middle order away from the Kookaburra ball while it’s still hard.
Bumble believes that Kent star Daniel Bell-Drummond should have got the nod for the tour
BOOTH: Burns and Hameed shared century opening stands at Headingley and the Oval, while Malan looked solid on his Test comeback. And in 2017-18, he scored a century at Perth — which only Graham Thorpe, Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes had done for England since 1986-87.
3) WITH STOKES ABSENT, WHO CAN BE ENGLAND’S TALISMAN?
BOOTH: This year, Root has scored nearly 1,000 Test runs more than England’s next-most prolific batsman (Burns, with 479), and six of their seven hundreds. He’ll need to add another three if his team are to have any chance.
LLOYD: For runs, you can’t look beyond Root. But I also believe the bowlers have a chance to make a name for themselves. In Australia, you need tall bowlers which brings the likes of Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and Stuart Broad into play.
BUTCHER: It will be incredibly tough without Stokes. And there is no Moeen Ali to balance the books.
With Ben Stokes absent from the squad, captain Joe Root will need to be England’s talisman
So Root’s going to have to score the runs Michael Vaughan and Alastair Cook managed in 2002-03 and 2010-11 just for England to have a chance.
HUSSAIN: If Root can get a shedload of runs, England will have a chance. He’s scored six Test fifties in 17 innings in Australia but no hundred, so this is his chance to build on a fantastic year.
GIBSON: It has to be Root. He could not be heading into the biggest series of all in better nick.
4) UNDERCOOKED AUSSIES HAVEN’T PLAYED A TEST SINCE JANUARY, SO CAN ENGLAND EXPLOIT THEIR ISSUES?
BUTCHER: Australia may have issues racking up the kind of scores that Steve Waugh’s team used to. David Warner is 35 this month, his form has tailed off, and he doesn’t have a nailed-on opening partner. England can also exploit the form of Tim Paine.
GIBSON: India highlighted areas of vulnerability when winning 2–1 there this year — namely, Australia’s lack of batting bankers beyond Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and the physical limitations of a four-man attack. The template is clear — take new-ball wickets, and tire the Australian seamers.
Marnus Labuschagne (left) and Steve Smith (right) are Australia’s most dangerous threats
BOOTH: By not showing up? Failing that, they must remind themselves that Australia’s batting leans heavily on Warner, Labuschagne and Smith.
If Stuart Broad can make Warner his bunny, as he did in 2019, that’d be a start. Paine remains an accidental captain, and coach Justin Langer often seems on the edge.
LLOYD: Their batting looks a bit flimsy, but England will have to get at Labuschagne and Smith before the Kookaburra loses all its shine — that is usually after about 12-15 overs.
But Australia’s bowling looks strong, and the off-spinner Nathan Lyon is one of their trump cards.
England bowler Stuart Broad will be tasked with getting the better of David Warner again
HUSSAIN: Obviously Smith and Labuschagne are world class, but it will be interesting to see where Warner is. Broad will be there to remind him of 2019, when he had success from round the wicket.
Then there’s Paine. Historically, Australia have tried to put pressure on England’s captain. I’d like to see a role reversal.
5) HOW DO YOU RATE ENGLAND’S CHANCES AT THE T20 WORLD CUP?
HUSSAIN: England have a great chance, even if their T20 team hasn’t quite matched the consistency of their 50-over side in recent years. You’d expect India to do well, especially as they’ll just have finished an IPL in the UAE, and West Indies are strong hitters of the ball.
BOOTH: Decent, even without Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes — though they could do with Liam Livingstone batting like he did in the Hundred, not as he has done at the IPL, and slow UAE pitches may not suit their batsmen. India and the six-tastic West Indies will be formidable.
England go into the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE as one of the tournament favourites
BUTCHER: England’s prospects are good. They have a decent record in Twenty20 tournaments. There are four teams you would realistically expect to see in the semi-finals: India, West Indies and a revved-up Pakistan are the others.
LLOYD: Others will see England as favourites. They’re a well-drilled, settled side. The only negative will be the UAE pitches, which will be on the slow side. That ought to suit India and Pakistan. West Indies are in with a shout if they bring their A-game.
GIBSON: Jofra Archer, the IPL’s MVP in the UAE last winter, is a big loss but there is no reason England cannot unify the world’s white-ball belts. Such is their depth that they start as joint-favourites in my book, along with West Indies.
6) WHAT CHANGES TO THE DOMESTIC SCHEDULE WOULD GIVE ENGLAND THE BEST CHANCE OF SUCCESS?
HUSSAIN: My main plea is for simplicity. It’s a nightmare for fans to work out who’s playing when, and the points system moving from conferences to divisions has been impossible to follow. I’d go back to two divisions, and improve the pitches.
GIBSON: There has been focus on the Championship due to recent Test struggles, but it is also a concern that no sooner had England become world champions than 50-over cricket was kicked into the long grass. Schedulers have slated the Royal London Cup for midsummer in 2022 but I would house it in April and May.
Changes to the domestic schedule must be made to give England the best chance of success
BOOTH: Assuming the ECB won’t scrap the Hundred, they have to ensure a better spread of red-ball cricket. This summer, there was none at all for nearly three weeks in the build-up to the first Test against India. The Championship should be three divisions of six, 10 games each, one up, one down.
LLOYD: They have to dismantle the schedule and start again. I’d have 10 Championship matches, played, crucially, in the summer months. The 50-over tournament should be a straight knockout at the start of the season, and there should be fewer T20 Blast matches.
BUTCHER: I’d include Scotland and Ireland in the Vitality Blast, revert to four groups of five, and reduce the number of group matches to eight. I hate the notion that the Hundred is out to destroy T20, when there should be a synergy between the two.