The 6 Cricketers that England’s Selectors should be watching in 2015
At the start of every English summer, pundits and fans all around the Shires (and well beyond Great Britain’s borders) are never short of an opinion on which up-and-coming cricketers will have a breakout year. This is not quite one of those articles. While there are plenty of youngsters who will prove themselves to be high-quality domestic players this year, many of whom were identified by Mind the Windows! founder Devon Mace in an earlier article, they’re far from the finished article. Here, I outline six cricketers that the English selectors should be looking at when they select their Test, ODI and T20i squads throughout the summer.
The 24-year-old Hampshire batsman has improved and impressed over the past two seasons in Division Two, proving himself to be a dynamic batsman at the top of the order in limited overs cricket, and a dependable middle order batsman in Hampshire’s red ball unit. He’s the star of a batting line-up that also features the more recognisable Michael Carberry, the domestic stalwarts James Adams and Sean Ervine, and the promising ex-Essex ‘keeper-bat Adam Wheater. Vince was instrumental in Hampshire’s promotion last year, making 1525 runs at 61.00 (at a strike rate of 77, no less) to top the aggregates. With an English ODI unit going through immense change after a disastrous World Cup, a spot at the top of the order may well loom for this young man. The only thing counting against Vince is his mediocre record for the English Lions, but consistency at county level ought to stand him in good stead with the selectors.
In some ways, it’s utterly amazing that 23-year-old Sam Billings hasn’t yet represented England at the highest level. With a List A batting average of 42.45 at a strike rate of 114.75, and renowned for an absolutely ludicrous innings of 135*(58) against Somerset, the reason he’s not in the England ODI team can be summed up in two words — Jos Buttler. It’s hard to see Billings as anything other than Buttler 2.0; he’s similarly-audacious, also had to fight at County level to take the gloves regularly (though he forced Geriant Jones to move on, while Buttler had to leave Taunton for regular wicketkeeping), and is slowly developing into a very good red-ball batsman too. The only other comparison, as Ivo Tennant points out, is AB de Villiers — two dynamic limited overs batsmen with sporting talents transcending cricket. These are huge comparisons for a young man to bear, but should Buttler ever require a rest in white ball cricket as a result of his increasing Test workload, or should England feel the need to employ another lower order finisher, Billings will certainly come into consideration.
With England’s constant desire to lock up the third or fourth seamer position in their Test XI, and always looking for white ball bowlers to manage the workloads of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, Lewis Gregory is hitting his straps at just the right time. One of the many young fast bowling all-rounders from Somerset (including Craig Overton and the on-loan Craig Meschede), Gregory has a strong action and moves the ball primarily off the seam. While he may lack the pace to be a genuine international bowler at present, he bowls a somewhat heavy ball and his accuracy suggests he’d still be a very useful addition to the England one day unit. And, much like the last promising medium-fast bowling all-rounder to enter the English side, Chris Woakes, his pace can develop with age as he overcomes early career injury concerns. Gregory is also a more-than-capable batsman, making valuable and often tough runs for a Somerset team that tend to be reliant on their ‘engine room’ lower order. England selectors, don’t expect Lewis Gregory to blow teams away immediately, but he’s certainly a talent worth looking into if he continues to perform this season.
I am openly partial to hard-working all-rounders, being the self-proclaimed World’s Biggest Scott Kremerskothen fan, and I will admit that those biases lead to the selection of Zafar Ansari onto this list. The 23-year-old from Surrey does not have the greatest statistics in any form, but he does have adaptability, maturity and, in this author’s opinion, the potential to be a future England captain. Renowned for some of the world’s most dour half-centuries in First Class cricket, in a team filled with unashamed dashers, Ansari has a remarkable ability to change gears (his First Class strike rate is a pedestrian 35.73, his List A figure sits at a very brisk 93.86) and is set up to perform well in a crisis. His left-arm spin is useful without being earth-shattering; he usually only bowls regularly in First Class cricket on pitches that are taking turn, and he is unlikely to tear through teams in white ball cricket. His batting, however, is adaptable and he is strong in the field. He’s only likely to develop further and, with a mature and intelligent young head on his shoulders, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be considered a future England prospect. Keep your eye on him, selectors. I think you’ve got a special player here.
The only capped player on my list, the career trajectory of Scott Borthwick has, quite frankly, been bizarre. The notion of a blonde leg spinner from Durham is somewhat counterintuitive to begin with, given traditions of northern conservatism and leg spin’s high-risk/high-reward status, let alone when one looks at the usual conditions on offer at Chester-le-Street — cold, grey weather and seaming pitches used to brilliant effect by Graham Onions and his cohort of medium-fast bowlers. With Onions regularly tearing the heart out of even the best domestic batting line-ups, Borthwick’s opportunities with the ball became limited. But his chances with the bat reacted inversely, being promoted to #3 in Durham’s Championship team and taking to it like a duck to water. He made over 1000 runs in 2013, and backed it up by reaching the barrier again in 2014 — yet between these seasons, he’d been plucked out of Sydney Grade Cricket to debut in the 2013/14 Ashes, taking four wickets in the process. “So”, I can hear you asking, “are you advocating Borthwick be persisted with as a spinner?” While I think Borthwick has the raw tools and abilities to be a useful leg spinner, he is far from the finished article. As a batsman, however, his credentials are only becoming more impressive. His regular scores from #3, with half of his games at Chester-le-Street, stack up favourably in the pantheon of potential England batsmen. It’s hard to imagine him breaking into the England team in any format this season, however he’s one that the selectors should keep an eye on; his batting has been genuinely good over the past two-to-three years.
At the risk of drawing my editor’s ire, I feel it worthwhile to mention the now-Sussex, ex-Essex left arm quick, Tymal Mills. Young and genuinely quick, the English selectors have been fascinated by Mills as a potential answer to Mitchell Johnson. Alas, this late-starter in the world of serious cricket has yet to prove he’s even remotely capable of Johnson’s bad days, let alone the good. 55 First Class wickets at over 35, playing his entire career in Division Two, does not an English cricketer make. The fascination with his pace is bizarre; no quality batsman in international cricket is worried by pace and pace alone. The success of Johnson in that series came from his hostility and accuracy melding with his pace. Mitchell Starc’s World Cup heroics came from dramatic swing, pinpoint accuracy and the unique angle afforded to him by his height. England selectors, just because a guy bowls with his left arm and hits 145km/h in the nets, does not mean he’s going to be your Johnson. Like Australia’s search for their own Freddie after 2005, the results will disappoint you. I would say ‘Mills is not the answer’, but there isn’t even a question. That isn’t to say that Mills mightn’t develop into a handy player for England one day, but right now he’s far from international standard. Let him learn and develop his craft, earning his place with performance, rather than forcing him into the XI now out of selectorial desperation.