With the retirement of Andrew Strauss, there now another aspect to the question of how England will look when they play India on the 15th of November. England need a new opener in addition to deciding how they want the middle order to look and deciding on the balance of the bowling attack.
As far as an opening partner for Cook goes, there are three main possibilities: Trott could be moved up a spot with someone like Nick Compton coming in to the middle order, Joe Root of Yorkshire could come in or Michael Carberry could come in. Of the three, I think moving Trott up would be a very bad idea. He has batted at three for almost his entire career and despite being a bit short of form at the moment he has had great success at that spot. To move him would also necessitate moving Ian Bell up to three and them possibly leaving three batsmen at four, five and six with only six caps between them. I would rather break up the inexperience. Choosing between Root and Carberry is interesting because a couple of years ago there really would not have been a choice. Carberry was the heir apparent and was even given a Test against Bangladesh when Strauss was rested in 2010. But he suffered from a blood clot in the lung and although he has fought back from that his form has fallen off this year and Root has had a blinder. (Both have been in Division Two.) I’d be quite tempted to have them both on the plane to India and see who looks better in the warmups. I’d have Root as the favourite though and (with a couple of LV=CC matches still to come, of course) if I had to pick just one right now it would be him.
With the bowling attack, England still have the ‘problem’ of having more Test quality bowers than they can fit into a single match. There is also the added problem in India of whether to play two spinners and if so how many seamers to play alongside them. The received wisdom is to play two spinners in India and indeed anywhere on the subcontinent. It is important as it provides a threat when there is not a lot of help for the seamers as well as a way to keep the scoring tied down. But England’s strength is seam bowling. We have seen in New Zealand’s series in India that good seam bowlers can get help from the Indian pitches and can make life difficult for the batsmen, at least in August. I think England would be well advised to play three seam bowlers, but that does not rule out two spinners. England played three seamers and two spinners in the one match they won over the winter last year, so Flower is clearly not impossibly set against the idea and it has been successful. I favour five bowlers anyway, but especially in conditions such as in India that can be quite draining on the bowlers. To play three seamers and two spinners would give England ample options for both attack and defence and I think they will need that.
The most obvious second spinner would be Monty Panesar, though Samit Patel does offer more with the bat and acquitted himself decently in Sri Lanka. He did not, however, look Test quality and England may need a bit more in a four Test series. There is also the matter of Swann’s elbow to be considered. He is being rested from the ODIs against South Africa, but it is not at all clear how fit he will be in India. England could not afford to have just Patel and a half-fit Swann, I think, which would mean an almost certain recall for Monty Panesar. He didn’t look great in the one match he played in Sri Lanka, but he was very good in the UAE before that and his nearest competition, James Tredwell and Simon Kerrigan, are a bit short of international quality and still too inexperienced respectively. At least one of them (and with an eye to the future I would have it be Kerrigan) should be in the squad as backup, but I would not expect them to play unless Swann is so injured he has to miss a Test.
This just leaves the middle order. Right now it is Trott, Bell, Taylor and Bairstow, but if England do play five bowlers than one of them would have to miss out and it’s a fair assumption that it will be one of the lower two. (Though if Trott is moved up to open then that would no longer be the case.) Bairstow is probably the favourite to stay in the side after his heroics at Lord’s, but Taylor looked very talented as well and should at least be on the plane. He can push for a spot in the playing XI during the warmups. There will also be no doubt suggestions of recalls for Eoin Morgan and/or Kevin Pietersen. Neither should be seriously considered, however. Morgan did well by announcing that he wanted to focus on his Test career, but he still has to back that up by actually refining his technique and improving at the first class level. He may get back in the test side at some point, but he is behind both Bairstow and Taylor now and will need to prove himself over most or all of a season with Middlesex. Pietersen should simply never be considered for England again. Most of his actions this summer have been unconscionable and although he was not the main reason for Strauss’s departure there can be little doubt that he does carry some of the blame. As Rob Smyth put very well in the Guardian: ‘if he cannot see “Straussy’s” blood on his hands, he has an even bigger lack of self-awareness than we feared’. Pietersen threw England into disarray at the end of 2008 and he is having a go at doing so again. Regardless of how talented he may be, it is time England got shot of him for good.
With all of the above in mind, my touring squad to India would be: Cook*, Anderson, Bairstow, Bell, Bresnan, Broad, Carberry, Davies†, Finn, Kerrigan, Panesar, Prior†, Root, Swann, Taylor, Trott
The playing XI would depend heavily on the results of warmup matches, but I would lean toward: Cook*, Root, Trott, Bell, Bairstow, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar