After the disasterclass of the ODI World Cup, the time has come for England to pull their pants down, turn them inside out and put them back on again. It’s white-ball reset time.
The curiosity of the latest rebuild, however, is that the messaging that it’s a rebuild at all appears to be coming from the outside more than the inside. Yes, there are a fresh set of players out in the Caribbean, but the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Mark Wood and Adil Rashid are nonetheless sat at home resting and recovering, ready (retirement announcements pending) to reclaim their place in the team.
“There hasn’t been that message,” Ben Duckett said after England’s first training session in Antigua, in reply to whether the message to the group was that this is the new era, with the shirts they’re playing in being theirs to keep.
“I need to go and prove that I’m good enough to be on this team and so do the other guys, so I don’t think it’s the case at all, this team could change next series.”
Rather than being a new team at the beginning of their own journey, ala the original 2015 White-Ball Reset™, the England team that will step out for the first of three ODIs against West Indies on Sunday, do so in a Hunger Games-type scenario. Battling it out for the odd spot in the XI at the expense of their mates to their left and right. England’s next strongest ODI team may well look suspiciously like the one that came before it.
Take the expected top three of this tour: consisting of Phil Salt, Will Jacks and Zak Crawley. England fans can expect that both Bairstow and Root will return to the ODI set-up in due course, meaning in reality the trio are battling it out for the opening spot that has been vacated by the dropping of Dawid Malan.Similarly, you can bracket Duckett and Ollie Pope together as the two players lined up to replace Ben Stokes, assuming that Stokes does indeed reduce his overall workload and steps back from ODIs in the wake of this week’s knee surgery. Duckett batted for hours across England’s first training session of the tour, whilst Pope had a net that appeared pain-free as he returned from the shoulder injury he sustained during the Ashes. However, a cause for slight concern was that, during fielding practice, Pope exclusively threw underarm as he continued to nurse his shoulder back to full fitness. England confirmed that Pope is fit to play if selected, but his shoulder is still clearly not at 100%.”I’m genuinely just thinking about the next three weeks,” Duckett, who scored his maiden ODI century against Ireland in September, said at the prospect of this being a career-defining series for a number of players. “I know how difficult it is to stay in a team when there’s this many players and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last 12 to 15 months is not thinking too far ahead.
“I just think it’s a massive opportunity to show what we can do. I’ve been around and not around the white-ball group for the past however many years and it’s been impossible to break into, so for me personally I’m just buzzing to get a go and be out here.”
At a time when traditional logic dictates that the three formats are getting further and further apart, for England the opposite seems to be true. The new generation of white-ball players, deemed to be the ones to take this team forward, include the current Test opening pair in Duckett and Crawley, the Test vice-captain in Pope and generational talent-elect Harry Brook. Even with the ball, Gus Atkinson, who received a two-year contract from the ECB, is surely pencilled into England’s plans for the India Test series and similarly so too is the tall left-arm spinner Tom Hartley. The fresh faces on show here are largely either those currently in the Test side or those with multi-format aspirations.
Duckett himself was in effect on standby for Stokes across the World Cup, in case the Test captain’s knee completely gave way: “I wasn’t even thinking about it [to be honest]. There was no way Stokesy was missing out. He would have hobbled through it and still scored runs.”
A cynic could argue that, for the likes of Duckett, missing the World Cup was a blessing in disguise. A chance to emerge from the ashes (not those ones) unscathed, ready to take the team forward.
“I don’t think there is ever a good time to miss a World Cup. It could be the only opportunity I have. So certainly not in that way. Those same group of players could go out there and win that World Cup at a different time. It was tough to watch at times and I’m watching mates go out there and struggle. It was really difficult.
“[But] for me personally I have had six weeks to kind of take a breather – it has been a big 12 months for me – and it might actually be quite refreshing. I feel raring to go now.”