England might have hastily assembled a ‘C’ team for the ODIs against Pakistan, but most of them emerged on the other side with flying colors, registering an ‘A’ next to their name.
Phil Salt - A
For those who’d watched Phil Salt play for the Strikers in BBL, his onslaught across the three ODIs came as no surprise. Still, how the Sussex man never let the pressure (of the situation) get to him was mighty impressive. At Lord’s England were reduced to 21/2 in bowler-friendly conditions and at Edgbaston they were chasing 332. Yet unperturbed by scoreboard pressure, Salt played a fearless brand of cricket that typified England’s white-ball culture. It is one thing to play out of your mind in franchise cricket, but it is a completely different proposition to replicate the same in international cricket against any bowling attack, let alone a world-class unit like Pakistan (just ask Tom Banton, he’ll tell you). To call Salt an heir to Roy and Bairstow’s throne might be a bit premature and far-fetched, but he certainly is an opener no fast bowler would like coming up against.
Dawid Malan - C
Whether perishing twice against a brand new ball (the second of which was a ghost wicket, i.e. not out) will hurt Malan’s Test chances remains to be seen, but despite scoring two ducks, one imagines the senior man wouldn’t fall behind in the pecking order. Particularly after his showing in the first ODI where, chasing 142, he played the quintessential Joe Root knock to take England over the line. Unlike any other English batsman in the Top 6 yesterday, Malan never lets the adrenaline get the better of him and hence despite the twin failures, he should still continue to remain an integral part of the ODI set-up. That said, he’ll be kicking himself for not contributing more, particularly being one of the more senior players in the set-up.
Zak Crawley - B+
Zak Crawley has always been too dazzling a strokemaker to continue just being a red-ball specialist, and in this series the youngster confirmed suspicions that he could, some day, very well turn out to be an all-format superstar. Crawley did struggle against the left-arm seam of Shaheen Afridi against the brand new ball, yes, but his flamboyant and effervescent ball-striking dwarfed those concerns. Both in the first and last ODIs, Crawley used his willow as a hot knife to slice through the butter that was the Pakistan attack, and oozed confidence that was lacking in the New Zealand Tests. Emboldened by the freedom at hand, the youngster gave a sneak peek into his burgeoning white-ball potential. He is very much a work in progress, but there are signs that the finished product could be a tantalizing prospect.
James Vince - A+
A vast majority had given up on James Vince, and feared that he would go down as the biggest ‘what if’ story in English cricket, but the 30-year-old, for the first time in six years, brought his domestic and franchise form to international cricket to reignite hopes of him still having a stellar English career. In both the games in which he batted, Vince walked to the crease under extreme pressure, and probably would not have been blamed had he wilted (after all, it’s a scene we’ve all gotten used to). Yet eager to prove a point - not just to the world but to himself - Vince batted like a man who had the world at his feet. For once, he converted the pretty 20s and 30s into 50s and 100s, and never did he look out of depth against a bowling unit that only two months ago had registered a series win in South Africa. Sport, in general, is crazy, so there is every chance that this ton could prove to be the turning point of Vince’s career; the knock that finally enables him to realize his potential.
Ben Stokes - C-
While Stokes did not put a foot wrong as skipper, he did, however, barely contribute as a player. Five overs was all he bowled across three matches, and he batted like a man who was worried about catching a train. There was, occasionally, on display the trademark drives, thumps and slog-sweeps, but at no point did Stokes look impregnable. Or even responsible, for that matter. At Edgbaston, in particular, he came out swinging, and was lucky to have lasted as long as he did. In the end, though, England won the series 3-0 with a hastily assembled squad, and Stokes himself, you imagine, wouldn’t be bothered about his shortcomings with the bat.
John Simpson - D+
It won’t be far-fetched to claim that John Simpson will never represent England again. A 2000s wicket-keeper stuck in the modern era, Simpson’s inclusion came as a surprise, and across three matches the Middlesex man proved that he is an exceptional gloveman with restricted batting potential. Even with the gloves he did err a couple of times, but he would certainly remember the stunning catch he took to dismiss Faheem Ashraf, for the rest of his life.
Lewis Gregory - A+
Never in the 8 T20Is he played for England did Lewis Gregory look like an international-caliber player, but across these three games, the Somerset man showed exactly why he is rated so highly. Both with bat and ball, the 29-year-old did not put a foot wrong. With the ball in hand, opening the bowling, Gregory bowled with discipline to enable his partner Saqib Mahmood to attack the batters, and with the bat he displayed maturity of a 100-match veteran. At both Lord’s and Edgbaston, Gregory walked in to bat at a time where Pakistan were well and truly on top, yet seamlessly he swung momentum towards England’s side, going about his business nonchalantly. Gregory might not quite be the ‘T20 finisher’ England thought he is, but he certainly is an ODI all-rounder that wouldn’t look out of place in a full-strength XI.
Craig Overton - C
More of a red-ball specialist, Craig Overton was selected for his experience, more than anything, and the Somerset man did a fine job of keeping things tight in the middle-overs. Used as a first-change in all three matches by skipper Stokes, Overton not just kept the noose tight, but also struck at crucial junctures to carve open Pakistan’s batting. He was also, in part, picked in the side for his batting, and he vindicated the decision at Edgbaston by steering the side over the line post the departure of Gregory. In all, a tidy series from the Somerset man.
Brydon Carse - B+
There was an element of unknown about Brydon Carse prior to the first ODI, but by the end of the third ODI, it became evident who he was: a tireless workhorse who, thanks to his handy ability with the bat, could be a useful white-ball asset for England in the years to come. A skiddy and pacey customer who gives it all each ball, Carse’s character made him stand out. And nothing epitomized this more than his showing at Edgbaston, where, under fire, he kept his composure to claim his maiden five-wicket haul. What will delight England, and in turn alert Tom Curran, is how Carse fared with the bat in hand. At both Lord’s and Edgbaston the 25-year-old played invaluable hands that contributed to the team’s win, and this ability to stay calm and stay put with the bat under pressure could see him outjump other candidates.
Saqib Mahmood - A+
The find of the series for England, Saqib Mahmood has, in all likelihood, turned himself into an indispensable asset in 50-over cricket. His double-strike in the very first over of the series set the tone for England, post which the Three Lions never looked back. More than the fact that he picked 9 wickets, it was how Mahmood went about his business that was mighty impressive. Despite only having played 4 ODIs prior to the series, the 24-year-old carried himself like a veteran that had spearheaded the country for half-a-decade, and tormented the Pakistani batters across all three games. An astounding 6 of his 9 wickets in the series came inside the first 10 overs, and the visiting batters had no answers for Mahmood, who was pacey, crafty and relentless throughout the series. Morgan, you imagine, would be drooling at the potential prospect of fielding a four-pronged pace attack in the future comprising Archer, Wood, Woakes and Mahmood.
Matt Parkinson - B+
It needed a major Covid outbreak for the most promising youngster in the English domestic circuit to get a second crack at international cricket, but across three games Matt Parkinson showed that he is ready to finally make the step-up to the next level. Parkinson might be in the headlines for bowling an outrageous delivery to castle Imam-ul-Haq, but it was how the young leggie fared in the first two ODIs that should encourage the English management. Long-hops and full-tosses were few and far between, and Parkinson displayed control and craft that Adil Rashid has spoilt the Three Lions with. Eventually Babar Azam did get Parkinson’s number, in the fag end of the 3rd ODI, but by then the youngster had made a compelling case to be a permanent in the white-ball set-up, serving as Rashid’s understudy.