Big picture: Back to the margins
It’s no slight on the visitors, honest. But here we are again, all the same. Just as Ireland opened England’s international season at Lord’s back in June, with a contest so translucent that both teams found themselves peering straight through it towards more pressing matters beyond, so they have returned at this fag-end of the English summer, with the narrative once again marching off into the middle distance.
Back in June, the focus for the two squads was England’s Ashes bid on the one hand, and Ireland’s 50-over World Cup qualification campaign on the other (and we’ll come back to that sorry saga in a moment). Now? It’s just cricket for the sake of cricket.
Three ODIs that, when they were first added to the schedule last year – before the BCCI had got round to finalising any dates for the World Cup – had been intended to form part of both teams’ final preparation for the main event in India next month.
Instead, Ireland dropped the ball with calamitous finality in Zimbabwe, losing each of their first three qualifying games to crash out at the group stages. Then England torched any pretence of remaining relevance by extracting each of their World Cup-bound players from the reckoning – with the honourable exception of Monday’s late addition, Joe Root, whose form across 50 overs has gone from non-existent to troubling in the space of four ropey displays against New Zealand.
But for England too, with a backlog of outstanding white-ball cricketers itching for an opportunity on the international stage, there’s relevance to be found on an individual basis this week, even if the three matches are destined to be forgotten amid a deluge of main event action in October.
We’ve been here before (sort of) in England’s recent history. Two summers ago, at the height of the Covid crisis, Ben Stokes – himself in recovery from a broken finger – led a scratch team of county stars in three matches against Pakistan, after the entire frontline squad had been sent into isolation following an outbreak.
They won the series handsomely, three emphatic wins to nil, with one especially familiar name seizing his chance for white-ball honours. Zak Crawley, England’s Ashes Bazballer extraordinaire, is now captain of this rejigged squad, having played his only three ODIs in that Pakistan series (including an unbeaten half-century on debut).
Ben Duckett, Crawley’s Test opening partner and now vice-captain, was named in that squad too but didn’t play. Now, he’s unquestionably one of the players with designs on a reserve role at the World Cup, as are Brydon Carse and Will Jacks – two other players with the proven pedigree to thrive given half a chance. All things considered, therefore, there will be plenty to play for this week… just not, at this juncture, anything of immediate consequence.
England WWWLL (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Joe Root and Curtis Campher
“A nice addition” is how Ireland’s coach described Joe Root‘s late call-up to England’s squad, for a one-off appearance on his home ground of Headingley, before getting his head back down in preparation for the main squad’s departure for India next Wednesday. He’s into the reckoning in place of Harry Brook, whose own response to a low-key performance against New Zealand has been to hunker down and visualise the better times that came before it (and hopefully afterwards too), now that he’s been preferred to Jason Roy in those World Cup plans. Root, however, is a more mechanical beast than his colleagues, and still has some last-minute tinkering to be done as he readjusts to the rhythms of the 50-over game after a year on the sidelines. In particular, he seemed bothered by his inability to rotate the strike against New Zealand, and lacked faith in the Root-scoop that had served him so well in Bazball. Surely nothing he can’t surmount, but it’s indicative of England’s overall lack of preparation for their title defence.
Team news: Root’s cameo takes precedence
All change from the New Zealand series, with the exception of the No. 3, as a host of England players with genuine aspirations jostle for the chance to star in the absence of the big guns. Phil Salt – a T20 World Cup winner in November – seems likely to start with the gloves, despite the close attentions of Surrey’s rising star Jamie Smith, whose chance may come when Root has had his net, and will probably open alongside Jacks, whose versatility as an opener, auxiliary spinner and general purpose power-hitter makes him a very tempting option as a World Cup reserve. Crawley and Duckett will slot into the middle-order, having opened in the Test against Ireland in June. On the bowling front, Carse has another chance to enhance his deck-hitting attributes, while Rehan Ahmed is self-evidently Adil Rashid’s legspinning heir apparent. Three more outings at the age of 19 can only bed him in further. Sam Hain and Tom Hartley are the likeliest of England’s four potential debutants to get a go.
England: 1 Will Jacks, 2 Phil Salt (wk), 3 Joe Root, 4 Zak Crawley (capt), 5 Ben Duckett, 6 Sam Hain, 7 Rehan Ahmed, 8 Brydon Carse, 9 Tom Hartley, 10 Luke Wood, 11 Matthew Potts
Stirling is Ireland’s stand-in captain, having taken over from Balbirnie after the World Cup debacle. How long he remains in the role is for Cricket Ireland to decide, but the two senior men will be leading their team in every sense, in their new partnership at the top of the order. Seeing as each made a hundred in a memorable 329-run chase at the Ageas Bowl three years ago, it feels like a safe pair of hands. Campher slots in at three, ahead of the rising star Harry Tector and the keeper Lorcan Tucker, while George Dockrell showcased his powerful ball-striking during Ireland’s series against Bangladesh at Chelmsford in May. On the bowling front, Josh Little’s left-arm pace offers a genuine point of difference.
Ireland: 1 Paul Stirling (capt), 2 Andy Balbirnie, 3 Curtis Campher, 4 Harry Tector, 5 Lorcan Tucker (wk), 6 George Dockrell, 7 Andy McBrine, 8 Mark Adair, 9 Barry McCarthy, 10 Craig Young, 11 Josh Little
Pitch and conditions
It’s late September in Yorkshire, so let’s not get our hopes up… there’s a weather warning in place for Wednesday and the omens are not entirely promising. The outfield has been drenched with rain over the last few days and Yorkshire are desperately hoping that it dries out in the next 24 hours. It’s been under covers non-stop, so you’d imagine some assistance for the seamers will be in the offing. The club reckon 14,000 tickets have been sold, but there will doubtless be a few gaps in the stands.
Stats and trivia
“Obviously having Joe in the team makes it stronger – no matter what team you’re in. It’s great having him, especially for me as captain. I can lean on him with that kind of stuff as well, so that’s awesome. Hopefully he gets what he wants out of it.”
Stand-in England captain Zak Crawley is looking forward to leading a side which features his old Test skipper, Root
“What are we crying out for is just more consistent cricket. Everyone’s playing at the World Cup, and we won’t be part of that this time around, so that makes us more hungry when we get these opportunities to play quality opposition at quality grounds..”
Heinrich Malan, Ireland’s coach, wants his players to focus on the international opportunity, irrespective of England’s distractions
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket