What changes should England make?

Very few, I think. The devil’s in the details, of course, otherwise this would just be a Tweet and not a full blog post. As I wrote yesterday, England’s problems were with the batting, but I don’t think any radical changes need to be made. It would be very out of character for either Strauss or Flower to make panic changes and I think that’s a good thing. It was one of the (many, many) differences between England and Australia a year ago that England only made one change that was not forced by injury. That said, the one change to drop Finn for Bresnan was a very successful one.

If England do want to make changes to the top six, one of the problems they face is that there is a surprising lack of batting depth in the squad. The only full time batsman in reserve is Ravi Bopara, though wicket-keeper Steve Davies has a first class average over 40. For all that I said about Eoin Morgan on the first and third days of the Test, I think to replace him with Bopara would be extremely foolish. Bopara has all the same problems that Morgan does, but he’s had several years now to in which to potentially overcome them and has failed to do so. Given that Morgan can play spin well (even if he does then get himself out) it seems incredibly unlikely that Bopara would represent an improvement. It would be possible to have Davies keep wicket and play Prior as a specialist batsman, but that would be gambling that Davies can out-bat Morgan and out-keep Prior. It’s possible that he could do both, but it is a big risk. If might be interesting to see how such a tactic plays out next time England have a dead rubber (hopefully not before June), but doing so in a vital Test would be ill-advised.

That does not mean that Morgan’s place is secure, however. There were many suggestions before the match that England play a fifth bowler in his place and his, and England’s, poor performance will only increase those calls. I’m still inclined to agree, although I don’t like the idea of shoring up a good bowling attack at the expense of a misfiring batting order. England’s top five, with the possible exception of KP, are better than they showed in Dubai and I think they ought to be backed to score runs on flat decks. In any case, the bowlers still showed an ability to score runs effectively so even without Bresnan a sixth batsman seems unnecessary. The bowlers were fantastic in difficult conditions, they restricted Pakistan to 338 all out on what still looked like a 400 wicket. If it had been in the first innings of the match instead of the second England would have been considered on top. That does not mean that another attacking option would go amiss, however. There were times, especially as the tail added over fifty on the third morning but also during the 100+ opening partnership, that a different type of bowler would have been very handy.

Even if England do not drop Morgan, I think Tremlett should be left out. (‘Rested’ if need be.) He was the least effective bowler for England; his tall bang-it-in style is not suited to the slow pitches. During the second morning Nasser Hussain was suggesting that he needed to pitch the ball up and try to skid if off the surface more. This is true, but it also describes very well the bowling of Graham Onions. He is a wicket-to-wicket bowler not too dissimilar to Junaid Khan who had great success against Sri Lanka. If England had him or Finn (who is also similar, but I don’t think as skiddy) in the attack in the first Test it would not have changed the result, but I think Pakistan would not have made as many runs as Strauss would have had something different at which to throw at their batsmen. I would definitely play at least one of them in Abu Dhabi. I would not play Monty, however. He performed very well in the warmup match, but I still don’t see him as an attacking option. I could be wrong of course, but especially in a four man attack I would prefer a fast bowler.

An interesting idea would be to drop KP for an extra bowler. He can take the match away from the opposition on his best day (see 202* at Lord’s) but more often he proves Boycott’s ‘not got a lot between the ears’ analysis correct. To drop him for a match may give his ego the kick it needs to make sure he comes out in the third Test and makes a couple of big scores. There’s no guarantee that he won’t come out in the second Test and make big scores, but I do not want to rely on him. It would be a brave move by England to drop him, but they have shown an ability to be brave before. My XI for the second Test is: Strauss*, Cook, Trott, Bell, Morgan, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Onions. It gives an extra bowling option and is still not much of a tail. As far as what will happen (the above being only what I want to happen) the only change I would think likely would be to replace Tremlett with Finn, which I do think would be an improvement. I would prefer Onions, but Finn is above him in the pecking order and England like to stick to that.

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