Monday, 19 August 2013

The Uncapped XI

With the final Ashes clash of summer 2013 imminent, Andy Flower and Darren Lehmann put the animosity aside to share a few pints at a local watering hole.

There are no Warner-esque punch-ups but one too many drinks are had and a wager is placed: The Aussie coach challenges Flower to complete a 4-0 series win by fielding a side entirely devoid of a test cap.

His forfeit, should England triumph (AKA ‘Lehmann’s terms’ – get it?) is to repeat the favour at the SCG when the two sides meet in January.

A few of these were no doubt sunk.

With his confidence high and judgment impaired Flower agrees and, with the help of a cider-fuelled brainstorm, scribbles his inexperienced XI on a alcohol-stained beer mat (with this year’s first-class averages in accompaniment):

Sam Robson – 993 runs @ 62.06

This summer’s success story with the bat in Championship cricket and well worth snapping up before the Aussies get their hands him.  The 24-year-old was born in New South Wales but since playing his first 2nd XI match for Middlesex in 2008 has graduated to opening batsman extraordinaire at Lord’s, top of the division one run-scoring table this summer and sought-after by both Ashes enemies. Middlesex boss Angus Fraser believes Robson will end up with the Three Lions on his shirt, but best to be safe and grab him early.

Varun Chopra – 869 runs @ 51.11

The former Essex batsman excelled in England’s age-group cricket teams up to Under-19s, where he was one of few shining lights at the 2006 World Cup in Sri Lanka. Since moving to Warwickshire in 2010 the opener has set about turning that potential into an England test spot and this has been something of a breakout season, including an unbeaten 228 against Middlesex.

Moeen Ali – 1016 runs @ 63.50

A similar story to Chopra, whom he captained in Sri Lanka in 2006. Ali left Warwickshire that year to join Worcestershire and, after being earmarked from an early age as a future test batsman, was lined up by many as Graeme Hick’s long-term replacement at New Road. However, it seems to have taken Vikram Solanki’s Surrey switch this summer to bring the best out of Ali, 26, who has cruised past 1000 first-class runs and notched up 61 against Australia for the England Lions last week.

Ali - The proud owner of the world's greatest chin barnet.

Gary Ballance – 959 runs @ 63.93

Another who comes into the test off the back of scoring runs against Aussie bowlers last week, the Yorkshire batsman reached three figures for the Lions.  The knock was another in a brilliant season for the Zimbabwe-born 23-year-old, who has received a second consecutive nomination for the LV= County Championship Breakthrough Player of the Year award.

Alex Gidman – 900 runs @ 60.00

Flower’s decision to opt for the Gloucestershire stalwart will be unexpected, despite an excellent season. The 32-year-old is averaging 60 in Championship cricket and has helped form the backbone of a surprisingly profitable batting lineup at Bristol this season. With a host of young talents coming through it is fair to say Gidman’s time for international cricket may well have come and gone, but you need some elder wisdom in an Ashes test side…

Steven Davies – 517 runs @ 47.00

Eight ODIs and five T20 internationals under his belt, but Matt Prior has made sure the Surrey keeper never played a test match. The likes of Somerset’s Jos Buttler and Craig Kieswetter may feel hard done-by and Davies’ teammate Rory Burns could be the man for the future, but the left-hander has shown consistent class with the bat for some years and averages just a shade under 50 in first-class cricket this season.

Ben Stokes – 536 runs @ 28.21; 34 wickets @ 25.08

Graham Napier’s impressive stats this season were marginally overlooked in favour of the ginger Geordie, who looks as though he will feature plenty for England over the years. The Durham man has a bit of pace about his bowling and impressive figures this season, though the batting has fallen short of his career first-class average of 35.45. It is hard to see Flower relishing previous behavioral issues, but Stokes picked up the wickets of Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja last week and it is tough to deny he is an exciting cricketer.

Ben Stokes celebrates becoming England's token ginger

Chris Woakes – 26 wickets @ 21.50; 385 runs @ 42.77

Another with ODI experience, Woakes undoubtedly gets the nod – he has also already been called up to the squad. The Warwickshire bowler has been lined up as a future England man for some time now and he can swing the bat to good effect as well. Another productive season at Edgbaston and the 24-year-old edges out David Willey, who is turning into a promising all-rounder but is perhaps just not ready for this step up.

Chris Jordan – 51 wickets @ 26.58

James Harris and Keith Barker may have turned out for the Lions last week, but Chris Jordan’s weight of wickets this season lands him a spot in the bowling attack. The Barbados-born quick tops the Championship wicket-taking charts with 51, after a switch from the Oval this summer. The 24-year-old has settled right in at Hove and earned himself a spot opening the bowling for this new-fangled England side.

Simon Kerrigan – 47 wickets @ 20.23

Called up to the original match squad with Woakes, the Lancashire spinner is rapidly cementing his spot an England’s number two spinner after Graeme Swann. James Tredwell put in a good showing at the Champions Trophy this summer, but Kerrigan has all the hallmarks of a future test bowler – most importantly, he takes first-class wickets. The left-armer has 47 at 20.23 this year and doesn’t look like slowing down – and Monty Panesar isn’t exactly flavour of the month right now.

Boyd Rankin – 28 wickets @ 24.50

Jordan’s opening partner and another piece of what is a relatively experienced bowling attack, considering they are all test debutants. The Northern Irishman has played plenty of ODIs and T20s for his native Ireland before becoming the latest man to make he switch to England this summer against New Zealand.  The tall seamer has collected a decent wicket haul in the Championship this year and fits the bill opening the bowling.

Paddy von Behr tweets @paddyvb