England begin their 2015 World Cup campaign against hosts Australia in Melbourne on Valentines Day and England have a lot of work to do this winter to avoid a sixth successive World Cup flop. England enjoyed their best World Cup to date in Australia in 1992, reaching the final, but due to the side’s well documented on- and off-field problems they are friendless on Betfair for next year’s tournament drifting from 7.0 to their current price of 12.5.
Alastair Cook is set to become the third Essex man to lead England in a World Cup and with his place at the top of the batting order all but assured the focus now shifts to who the selectors will decide to partner the skipper. This is arguably the most important decision the England management have to make going into the tournament as the final opening combination will determine the mindset of the entire team.
England’s selectors have received plenty of criticism of their conservative selection policy and further fuel was added to this fire following the announcement last Thursday that Moeen Ali was to replace Alex Hales for the first warm-up game in Sri Lanka. Further experimentation is likely over the course of the remaining 12 ODIs ahead of the World Cup and we examine 5 players who have all have the credentials to fill this vital role.
1. Moeen Ali
Worcestershire’s opening batsman Moeen Ali is a key performer for England and was given the first opportunity to forge a relationship with Cook at the top of the order. The left-handed looked comfortable in his new role against Sri Lanka A as he smashed six fours from his first six legitimate deliveries en route to a 21-ball half century. This display justified the faith the selectors showed in him and allowed the focus to be shifted off Cook which should help England going forward. The all-rounder Ali also proved his worth with ball in hand taking 3 for 29 off nine overs and if he can build on this display in the upcoming ODI series, against tougher opposition, it will be difficult for the selectors to leave him out of the side.
2. Alex Hales
Alex Hales has made a name for himself in the T20 sphere and is currently ranked as the number three batsman in the world in that format. He made his 50-over debut at the end of the summer against India but with only 92 runs in four innings the selectors were seemingly unimpressed and have now looked elsewhere. Bit-hitting Hales should get his chance at some point in Sri Lanka and following a breakthrough 2014 in this format, with four List A centuries and an average of close to 50, he should also free up the faltering Alastair Cook to bat through the innings. Hales smashed a breath-taking 116 from 64 balls at the World T20 earlier this year to become the only Englishman to reach three figures in that format and if he can show that sort of freedom with bat in hand in this slightly longer format he can cement his place alongside Cook.
3. Jason Roy
Surrey’s Jason Roy was one of the stand-out performers, alongside James Taylor, in county cricket this season and he was very unlucky not to make be included in the squad to face Sri Lanka. The big-hitting opener has a similar profile to Hales and his inclusion would help England to get off to a fast start and put pressure on the opposition bowlers. Despite Roy’s recent success with the bat his inclusion in England’s ODI team looks a long way off as the selectors are unlikely to make wholesale changes three months before a World Cup.
4. James Vince
James Vince is another opening batsman on England’s radar but he also failed to make the cut for the ODI series against Sri Lanka. Vince’s style has been likened to that of former England skipper Michael Vaughan and although that is certainly high praise indeed, with Cook and Bell preferred at present, there is little room to accommodate him in the current set-up. Vince became the first batsman to pass 1,000 runs in the County Championship last summer as he helped his Hampshire side gain promotion to Division One and it seems at present his best chance of forcing his way into the England side looks to be in the Test arena.
5. Ravi Bopara
All-rounder Ravi Bopara was surprisingly dropped for the ODI series against India in September but following a solid spell back in domestic cricket he has been recalled to the squad for their tour of Sri Lanka. Bopara’s role is more likely to be down the order but if England fail to find an able partner for Cook on this tour, the impressive shot maker Bopara could be promoted to give England some early impetus. Bopara’s biggest asset over his rivals is his wealth of experience as he has averaged 35 runs from his 13 matched in the World Cup. Bopara has opened the batting 14 times for England in ODIs back in 2008/9 and now with an added maturity to his game he could offers the selectors a solid alternative if their current plans fail.