Thursday, June 13, 2024

Harry Brook must replace Jonny Bairstow in England’s batting order

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At the heart of the challenge of constructing a T20 batting line-up is allowing a side’s best players to have the greatest influence on the game. When Australia lost to England in the T20 World Cup final at Bridgetown in 2010, one reason was that their best batsman, Mike Hussey, was held back until No 7, and faced just 10 balls. If Brook is not yet as feared as Hussey then, Australia would have been content to see him held back until No 6 in Barbados.

While Brook’s white-ball record for England is yet to match his Test deeds, the crispness and range of his strokeplay makes him among the English batsmen that opponents fear the most. So far in his T20 international career he has hit a six every 15 balls. This explosiveness has underpinned some devastating innings – a 35-ball 81 not out to set-up a victory in Karachi, a 29-ball 46 not out in Lahore, and that stunning heist against West Indies last year.

All these contributions came at No 5 or No 6, where Brook has batted for the bulk of his England T20 career. The lone occasion that Brook has been given a run at No 4, against New Zealand last summer, he hit 43 not out from 27 balls, and then 67 from 36 balls – on both occasions setting up victory. These performances highlighted Brook’s suitability at No 4, controlling the innings; yet, ever since, he has been shunted down the order.

Empowering Brook to bat at four would force England to make hard decisions elsewhere. Bairstow has a superb track record of clearing the ropes; only six weeks ago, he plundered 108 not out from 48 balls, with nine sixes, in the Indian Premier League.

That performance came while opening. England’s abundance of opening options, together with Bairstow’s quality against spin, means that he occupies a relatively unfamiliar position in international cricket: Saturday was only the third time that he has batted as low as No 4 in any T20 match since July 2022. England must now gauge whether Bairstow can provide the heft that the side needs at five or six, or whether he should now be squeezed out the side.

Picking Curran would allow England to break up their right-handers

Should Bairstow be dropped, Ben Duckett is the obvious replacement. Duckett was picked as the spare specialist batsman in the squad. Handily, he is also a left-hander too.

But, for all Duckett’s improvisation and dexterity against spin, he would be wasted batting outside the top four. His relative lack of power is also ill-suited to the unique nature of T20 in the Caribbean, where a combination of short boundaries and some uneven bounce means that teams regularly score as many sixes as fours.

Instead, the requirements of T20 in the West Indies are a better fit for Sam Curran. Since the start of 2022, Curran has hit a six every 16 balls in all T20 games; Duckett has only managed one every 44 balls in this period. Picking Curran would allow England to break up their right-handers in the middle order, using Moeen Ali and Curran at five and seven, with Liam Livingstone sandwiched between them at six. Selecting Curran would also provide another benefit: his bowling.

While his player of the tournament display in the last T20 World Cup feels ever more like a perfect storm, Curran would still provide England with a man who can bowl in all three phases of a game. In this line-up, Curran would not be relied upon to bowl all four overs, allowing England to be flexible in how they used his bowling. Curran’s last match offers a tantalising hint of his capabilities, when he opened the bowling and took 2-24 for three overs before taking Punjab Kings to victory with an undefeated 63 from 41 balls at No 5.

Accommodating Curran would give England an extra seam option who could bat in the top seven. On the slow, turning tracks in Antigua, the presence of Curran could allow England to learn from West Indies and recognise the value of slow left-arm spin. Tom Hartley, who has already shown zest for the fight in international cricket, could then be picked as a second frontline spinner alongside Adil Rashid.

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