England’s Cricket World Cup wannabes out to stake their claim as T20 series begins


England’s men this evening start their belated white-ball summer in Durham, as the T20 series against New Zealand gets under way.

The emphasis during the next three months is on 50-over cricket, with a One-Day International series against the Black Caps to come next month ahead of the start of autumn’s World Cup defence.

A 15-man squad for that tournament has already been provisionally announced, with the run of four T20s offering eight of those involved a chance to find form, as well as several players on the fringes a chance to state a case to, at the very least, make the flight to India as a reserve.

With that in mind, which players have something to prove?

Liam Livingstone & Dawid Malan

Among those in need of runs in the build-up to the World Cup are Livingstone and Malan, both of whom could come under pressure should the argument for Harry Brook become impossible to ignore.

Malan has an excellent ODI record but will lose his place as the anchor at No3 to Joe Root, and England are unlikely to use both in the same XI. Jason Roy’s patchy form means Malan could yet find a place into the side as an opener, but his own recent output is a concern in itself, after the 35-year-old finished the Hundred out of the Trent Rockets side, having made a top score of 11 in four innings.

Livingstone, meanwhile, is valued for his spin-bowling, but also had an underwhelming Hundred with the bat, and with Root’s offies as an option, England could still balance their side without the all-rounder.

Gus Atkinson

England’s plans to blood a new wave of quicks in this T20 series have been partially scuppered by injuries to Josh Tongue and John Turner, but Atkinson will make his international debut this week, having already been named in the World Cup squad.

The Surrey quick was clocked at 95mph in the Hundred, and with Jofra Archer and Olly Stone injured, and Mark Wood likely to be in need of rotation during a long tournament, England need the novice to make an immediate impact.

Elsewhere, another Surrey man, Will Jacks, will be hoping his combination of power-hitting and spin will make him an appealing option as a travelling reserve, while Rehan Ahmed will resume his fledgling international career and would be a World Cup contender as spin cover.

Harry Brook

No player has more incentive to perform this week than Brook, the most controversial omission from the likely World Cup squad named earlier this month.

Already a Test superstar and T20 World Cup winner across the course of a 12-month international breakout, the Yorkshireman was ultimately the fall guy for Ben Stokes’s return from retirement, which put a squeeze on middle-order places.

However, the 24-year-old responded to his snub in style, belting the Hundred’s fastest century off just 41 balls, and England captain Jos Buttler has already hinted that there could yet be room for manoeuvre, with teams allowed to tinker with their World Cup squads until late next month.

Stokes’s place is not in doubt, but an innings or two of magic from Brook could leave plenty of others looking nervously over their shoulders.