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England Have Picked A T20 World Cup Squad For Flexibility And Depth, Without A Defined First XI | T20 World Cup 2024 | Cricket News Today

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England’s T20 World Cup selections have been made with an eye for maximum flexibility and depth, rather than with a first XI and spares in mind, writes Katya Witney.

Despite it being only 18 months since England lifted the T20 World Cup trophy in Melbourne, it’s hard to define the shape they’re in going into this edition. Six of the fifteen selected this time around did not feature in the 2022 group, with Tom Hartley picked having not yet made his T20I debut. Nevertheless, there’s a logic behind England’s selections given the conditions they’re likely to face in the Caribbean (where they play all their games) and the question marks over some of their squad members.

Looking at the top five, the personnel in that part of the XI looks settled. Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Will Jacks and Phil Salt will make up the top four in some combination, and Harry Brook will come in at five. While that lineup is packed with firepower, the performances of four out of those five in the last two weeks of the IPL a case in point, it’s entirely made up of right-handers. England have made sure they have two solutions in their squad for that.

Sam Curran has been opening the batting for Punjab Kings as a pinch hitter in Shikhar Dhawan’s absence for the last two weeks in the IPL. While the runs he’s scored there haven’t been impressive, he’s also batted in the top six in T20Is nine times for England. There’s also Moeen Ali among the left-handed batters, who’s batted everywhere apart from at the top in England’s top seven over the last two years. Both he and Curran are likely to be used as floaters in the top six, breaking up the trail of right-handers depending on the match-ups they’re faced with.

An indication of how flexible England are likely to be with their top six came in their most recent series in the West Indies. In the second T20I, both Curran and Liam Livingstone batted in the top five, and Livingstone batted at four in the three following games, a position he’d only batted in three times previously in T20Is. He scored a 21-ball 54 in the second of those games.

Another solution to the right-hander heavy top order is the de-facto spare bat England have picked in Ben Duckett. While Duckett isn’t in the same floater mould as Curran or Moeen, primarily operating in the top four in T20Is, he’s a left-hander who’s aggressive against spin. On potentially slow pitches in the Caribbean with small boundaries, he’s a good option to counter bowlers targeting the top order of right-handers.

The mountain of allrounders England have also picked allows them room if their premier ones, Curran and Moeen, fail to fire. While Curran was arguably the decisive factor in England winning the last T20 World Cup, his role bowling at the death earning him Player of the Tournament, his form since has been patchy. In the 11 T20Is he’s played since then, he’s conceded his runs at 9.15 an over and went at 11.91 in their recent tour of the Caribbean. With Chris Jordan selected over Chris Woakes, there’s a viable second option for Curran, both in a death bowling role and as a lower-order hitter. Rob Key stated as much when announcing England’s squad.

“The fact that [Jordan] can bowl at the death has always been something we look for,” said Key. “But his batting seems to have kicked on a bit this time. Having power is a big thing out in the Caribbean, so that’s why CJ has comfortably got in there.” Jordan has only played four T20Is since the last World Cup but operated as England’s death specialist for years.

Similarly for Moeen, the number of spinning allrounders at England’s disposal means they can go for several combinations of spinners, with Will Jacks and Liam Livingstone likely to be in most XIs they select in the competition. Adil Rashid as ever will be a mainstay but with Livingstone able to turn the ball both ways and Jacks’ right-arm angle, there are options for plenty of variations. Equally, Moeen is an effective force against left-handers and could be even more so in those conditions. England play two of their group games at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, where Moeen has historic success, his wickets coming at 18 apiece in the five games he’s played there since 2022, including his career-best T20I figures.

Tom Hartley also shouldn’t be thought of as a spare part on the tour. While he’s the only uncapped player in the squad, conditions mean there could be a role for him in some matches. He’s taken 62 wickets in 80 T20 appearances, and another different angle as a left-armer will be useful on an opposition-by-opposition basis.

The ‘squad over XI’ approach is most notable in their bowling options. Aside from probably Jordan, there are no bowlers who can be viewed as a discernable ‘spare’ option. Should Jofra Archer’s fitness hold he’ll be expected to open the bowling, probably alongside Reece Topley, with Curran at the death and Archer an option there as well. However, Mark Wood also operated in similar positions to both and it’s hard to differentiate two definite first picks between the three of them, particularly with uncertainty over Archer after so long out of the XI.

In a way, not having all of their options available to select since the last World Cup has gone into this collective approach. With different players getting their opportunity over the last 18 months, but still a hierarchy of definite first-choicers in place, this squad is the result. It marks a different approach from other squads, where there’s a core centre of players and spares.

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