Chris Knight looks back at the England Lions’ tours of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and assesses which of the next generation are ready to make the step up.
While England’s batsmen were being put into a tailspin by a Saeed Ajmal-inspired Pakistan in the recent Test series in the UAE, the next generation of England hopefuls were developing their skills and hoping to put their names in the shop window for a senior call-up.
A 3-2 ODI series defeat in Bangladesh was followed by a victory by the same scoreline in Sri Lanka and the undoubted star of the show was Somerset’s Jos Buttler, who received senior recognition on the back of his performances and was included in the ODI squad that completed a shock series whitewash over Pakistan.
The 21-year-old served notice of his talent during Somerset’s CB40 final defeat to Surrey in September, where he hit a composed 86 despite wickets falling around him, and it was a similar story for Buttler with the Lions, as he proved the mainstay of the batting order while others failed to adapt in unfamiliar conditions. Buttler averaged 53.66 with a strike rate of 82.98 in Bangladesh before trumping that with an average of 81.50 at 128.85 in Sri Lanka. Add that to his one-day average of 71.16 at 142.57 in Somerset’s middle order and England may have unearthed a gem to see them over the finishing line for years to come.
Other notable batting contributions included a positive second leg of the tour for Alex Hales, who has already made his international bow in Twenty20 cricket. The Nottinghamshire opener scored 252 at 50.40 in Sri Lanka but there are still nagging doubts about his ability to convert starts into big scores. Yorkshire’s Joe Root is another who will be eyeing an opening berth in the senior set-up and his century in the final match in Sri Lanka demonstrated his considerable talent, although he’d found the going tough until that point.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the tour was the form of the Lions skipper James Taylor, who came away with more questions than answers and a top score of 65. Having appeared so close to a Test call-up last season, when he was pipped by Ravi Bopara to replace the injured Jonathan Trott, he has now been leapfrogged in the pecking order by Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. He will need to hit the ground running next season at his new club Nottinghamshire to force his way to the forefront of the selectors’ thoughts.
Taylor’s new Notts teammate Samit Patel joined the Lions for the Sri Lanka leg of the tour and excelled with both bat and ball. He averaged 32 down the order and his spin bowling proved to be an invaluable asset, as he led the wicket-taking charts with 12 victims at 21.33. The penny appears to have finally dropped for Patel, with the gifted allrounder now finding the commitment levels to match his considerable talent and he is enjoying the fruits of his labour; showing his continued development in both disciplines during the ODI series win over Pakistan.
In addition to Patel’s resurgence, Hampshire’s Danny Briggs forced his way into the ODI squad with 16 wickets across the two series and England’s spin bowing options look in rude health with Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan also gaining invaluable experience over the winter.
The batting department appears more problematic though, with no obvious choice as yet to open with Alastair Cook when Andrew Strauss calls time on his Test career and, like their senior countrymen, the Lions’ middle-order struggled to cope with the spinning ball in Asian conditions. However, tours such as these can only benefit the side in the long-term and England’s selectors will be hoping the next generation are quick learners.
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