More than one Lions squad was announced recently. The ECB released their team for the tour matches against New Zealand.
Lions matches traditionally don’t attract as much attention, but they are useful to see who is likely to feature heavily in the internationals. Places are up for grabs.
The test batting order is not as solid as it once was. With Pietersen out of the series his place is temporarily free. A couple of good performances against New Zealand and it may become permanent for whoever gets his spot.
The end game is not necessarily batting for England against New Zealand, but to be on the list for the Ashes. As Mike Hesson, coach of New Zealand said, “We’re more than just an Ashes entree.” He’s right, the Black Caps are a bowl of soup too.
It isn’t a slight on the New Zealanders, more a brutal arithmetic. Ashes tests are bigger and more can be played. Whether or not there are too many upcoming Ashes tests in quick succession is up for debate.
In the mean time though, this match is the way into the series. New Zealand is exactly the sort of opponent where a few options will be tested. The Lions match beginning on the 9th is the qualifying round.
So who could make the cut? A few players look likely to be in the 1st XI against New Zealand. Joe Root has been named captain, suggesting possible future leadership aspirations. Daniel Brettig nailed it when he talked about Steve Smith being a leader in training. Captaining the A side is a very clear message of favour.
So Root will likely still get through, provided he isn’t unbearably awful in the warm up match. He hasn’t been in great first class form recently. A rough tour of New Zealand has admittedly been followed up with a big double hundred for Yorkshire. He does have incumbency on his side, but that’s only a foot in the door.
Ravi Bopara is back, and will be playing as a batting all rounder in all likelihood. England do often look to get a part time overs out of their batsmen. Trott currently holds responsibility, though Bopara is equally as handy with the ball. Pity about his batting. He’s never managed to cement his place, and has drifted in and out of teams.
Bairstow is in a bit of trouble. He’s playing as a keeper, not a frontline batsman. That suggests he is about to be squeezed out of the team behind Prior and a different batsman. His returns at test level have been modest, and he probably needs a few more years development. At 23 though time is on his side, and a game for the Lions shows he’s not completely out of favour.
Almost every player in the team has some experience at international level. One such example of a player who may not have got enough is Michael Carberry. This his probably his last chance, and he will need a bit of grim luck to make the test team.
His competition is one of the best opening pairs going in world cricket. Cook and Compton are performing far in excess of their team mates, and they are unlikely to be disturbed. Settled opening partnerships tend to mature, and these two make very good foils for each other.
One player who is perhaps a little unlucky to be missing out is Keith Barker. His recent history of cricket playing is not exactly illustrious, competing in the Hong Kong 6’s exhibition tournament.
However, Barker’s first class numbers are very impressive, and he has cracked the holy grail of the allround game. His batting average is higher than his bowling average.
He also signed for Blackburn Rovers in his youth, an interesting sidenote to a converted cricketer. He never ran on for the Rovers though, and his only game time of note was 12 games for Rochdale. Barker barely scored throughout his football career, not great for a striker.
His switch has paid off, and a long-term professional career in the county game beckons. An international call up could happen for him though if he continues to look promising in his primary discipline, bowling. At the moment it doesn’t seem like he is taken seriously as a prospect, but another strong County season could prove decisive.
The bowling pool looks fairly stable, though injuries are always just around the corner. Either Panesar or Swann will be the spinner, and the three current quicks almost pick themselves. There will likely be a bit of jostling for position though, with Onions the most likely beneficiary.
Broad is suffering from a few lingering injuries too. The selectors must be concerned with not over-bowling him before the main event. Woakes is the most likely swap as a bowler who can bat. He is a Lions player who needs to fire in either discipline, but one will probably be enough.
That a strong Lions match can be the ticket to a longer tenure isn’t in doubt after the warm up matches in New Zealand. BJ Watling nailed down his test place for New Zealand playing for a warm up team match. He still holds it, denying alternatives like former Australian international Luke Ronchi.
England practices this method of selection too. Jos Buttler kept his ODI and T20 spots in part through great performances in the warmups. Back to back T20 fifties gave him a starting spot in a competitive middle order.
So the Lions match matters, it is the first chapter in a long summer for England. It is impossible to imaging they will get through 12 tests unscathed by injury. Having backup will be crucial to their chances of holding on to the Ashes.