Who could replace Hales in the England Test side?

Blog Opinion

Peter Miller assesses England’s Test options for the opener role and middle order places following Alex Hales’ decision to miss the tour to Bangladesh.

We are counting down to when England will announce their squads for the tour.

The ODI side is actually pretty settled. England have a good idea of their best XI and the squad that they would like to take. 

The difficulty is that two players have said they won’t go to Bangladesh over fears for their security. Without captain Eoin Morgan and opening batsman Alex Hales there will be some changes, but there are already enough one-day batsmen kicking around that their absence won’t be too keenly felt.

While the ripples created by them deciding not to go may hang around for a while yet, from a selection point of view things will settle down quick enough.

Things are far less clear when it comes to the Test side. It looks like Hales would not have been picked for the Tests anyway so with his omission there is a question mark over Alastair Cook’s opening partner, who will bat at four and five and who will play as the second spinner.

Here are the some of the candidates for those spots.

Haseeb Hameed 

The teenage sensation from Lancashire has been quietly grinding out run after run in Division One of the County Championship and he looks set to get a call-up to the Test squad. With Hales set to be left out it also seems he will be Alastair Cook’s 10th opening partner since Andrew Strauss retired four years ago.

For all the buzz very few people will have actually seen Hameed bat in the flesh, but if you do some googling you might find some grainy fixed camera footage.

What you will see is a technically correct batsman who is equally comfortable on the front and back foot. He stands upright in his stance and waits for the ball to come to him. He drives, he pulls, he cuts. He is quite simply very special.

When asked about his chances of playing this winter despite being so young England’s coach Trevor Bayliss said “if he is good enough he is old enough”. There is plenty of evidence that he is good enough.

Tom Westley

An outside bet, but he is the leading run scorer in first-class cricket this summer. That those 1422 runs have come in Division Two will no doubt count against him, but Westley has shown throughout this year that he knows his game inside out.

He toured with the England Lions last winter and struggled, making four ducks in his 12 innings. This summer has seem him put that disappointment behind him and he has just churned out the runs, not least the career best 254 he made against Kent. He can bowl some tidy off spin too. He is a long shot, but he may well be discussed.

Ben Duckett

For all the runs that Hameed and Westley have scored the most exciting batsman who has not yet made his full England debut is unquestionably Ben Duckett. He has scored 1263 first-class runs this summer including four hundreds.

The lowest score amongst those centuries was 185 against Glamorgan. He should have had a triple hundred back in April but for rain to fall for the last two days of the match versus Sussex, robbing him of the chance. Still, 282 not out was a fine way to start the season. He will play Test cricket, but this winter may be too soon.

While his Test credentials are a work in progress he must be in with an excellent chance of making the one-day leg of the tour. With Hales and Morgan sitting out and Joe Root likely to be rested Duckett should be making his ODI debut next month. His 220 not out for England Lions against Sri Lanka A in the one-day series this summer showed what he was capable of.

Gareth Batty 

The 38-year-old Surrey captain has been in fantastic form this year. He has done a brilliant job at leading a young Surrey team to safety in Division One of the County Championship and he has claimed 41 wickets at an average of 31.

It has been 11 years since he last played a Test, an early season outing against Bangladesh ahead of the Ashes that summer, and he is undoubtedly a better bowler than he was then. In fact, he is a better bowler than Moeen Ali who has been England’s first choice spinner for the last two years.

But Batty isn’t a better Test cricketer than Moeen who has rescued England more than once with the bat, and who has done a decent holding job with the ball. If Batty was picking up wickets at a better average with more consistency he would have pushed Moeen for his spot a while back, but his returns have not enough to make a case for dislodging Moeen from the team.

Batty is a fine cricketer, but you can’t help but think his selection would be little more than a stop gap and an admission that England are not producing spinners.

That said, he has a very good chance of being picked for these winter tours and he will bring a huge amount of experience to the England team. Him returning to the England fold and playing a big part in series’ wins would be a great story.

Ahead of the Bangladesh tour, Cricket365’s James Doan has recalled five of the most memorable innings played by England batsmen against the Tigers since they gained Test status in 2000.

Liam Dawson 

The England management like Liam Dawson. They think he “gets” cricket and has the temperament to make it at the highest level. Even as he was battered all over the place for 41 runs in his first four overs on his ODI debut against Pakistan in Cardiff, he was praised by Bayliss for the way he conducted himself and for how well he came back in his remaining overs.

There is a lot to be said for character being a selection criteria but picking Dawson is a move based on instinct rather than fact. He has claimed 15 first-class wickets an at average of 46 this summer, those are not the numbers of a potential England spinner.

Despite those relatively poor returns in red ball cricket there is every chance that Dawson will make it on to the plane for the winter tours. There is something about him the England management say. There is only one way to find out if he is good enough to make it as a Test player.

There are other names that could be listed here. Zafar Ansari of Surrey, Scott Borthwick of Durham, Jack Leach of Somerset. This winter the selection for the tours is as open as it has been in years.

I will leave it to you to decide which of the names I have listed, or which of the ones I haven’t, get to go on the tours. Debating selection is the most tedious activity known to man. I have done my bit.

Peter Miller

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