When it’s successful, the combination, the team and everything, why do you want to change it? Well, one, this series is the last they would play in the country before the World T20 and in the past, it has become very clear that having just one plan doesn’t quite guarantee you success.
If you are England, you shouldn’t be worried. Or should you? You just won your second game in India, against a strong Indian side and also, at the same time, put a small tender doubt in the Indian management’s mind about their team selection. But is it enough? Have you done it all to see that, come October, you would emerge as the most successful side in the tournament, run-away winners?
England might very well be 2-1 up in the series but they have a long road to go before they can finalise the playing XI that would take the field in their opening fixture in India and that’s precisely a big point of interest. One less surely unearthed England’s worries, especially when they had to play Tom Curran, who neither had the pace to trouble the Indian batsmen nor had the plan to upstage them.
In Mark Wood, England have found an enforcer, who, in fact, has emerged himself as one of the best bowlers in the series, overall. But what happens when that plan ‘A’ fails? What happens when you lose the toss, what happens when everything that you planned withers away? That’s where ideally a plan ‘B’ falls in place and England, thus far, have failed to realise that.
Three games have already gone by, but the visiting Three Lions have only made one change - in came Tom; out went the Wood. If anything, England have not tested their bench and if anything, the Three Lions haven’t tested their spinners, barring Adil Rashid. History has suggested that having one spinner in the sub-continent is not the best of ploys but when they have got it all sorted, why worry?
Plan B - Character one: Moeen Ali
While the 33-year-old from Birmingham has had his success all over the world, India is one place that he has quietly succeeded. Despite having not played as many IPL games as he would have hoped for in the past two seasons, the off-spinning all-rounder is an integral part of the English set up for the World T20 in India, but where are the signs of it?
In his 14 appearances in India over his entire T20 career, the off-spinner has just picked up nine wickets, at an average of 29.6 and a strike-rate of 25.4. Eight of those appearances have come for the national setup, where he has picked up a wicket every game, conceding 7.77 RPO while still averaging 25.2. The games have been far off in and between but that’s where the prime focus comes, shouldn’t England have played him in the series?
The ploy, the logic of resting him, getting him available in time for the white-ball series, was to play him, wasn't it? This is where it gets a bit tricky, England will surely find themselves in a sticky situation, especially if the all-rounder doesn’t get a look-in, in this series, in a one-spinner setup.
Not just that, the left-hander has also in the past proven that if he doesn’t contribute with the ball, he does with the bat, certainly as a floater and someone who can spell very well. A batting average of nearly 19, all coming way down the order doesn’t quite support the move but his past performance in India suggests that - an average of 24.8, with a strike-rate of 165.9 should do able justice.
Character two - Liam Livingstone
Despite making a four-year-comeback in International cricket, Liam Livingstone’s role in the national setup has been restricted to the bench, thanks to the exploits of Jos Buttler and Jason Roy at the top of the order. Now that’s certain that the two would open the proceedings for England, having Livingstone in the middle-order might just shake up things, especially with Dawid Malan having a slow start to his series, thus far.
Whenever England have required the impetus in the middle-order, in a difficult situation, they have struggled to find one, which prompts another question to Plan A, if Malan does have a lean run like he is against India - thus far he has scores of 24*, 24 and 18, all coming off nearly run a ball rate - do they look elsewhere?
While Livingstone might not exactly provide a like-to-like replacement, he certainly would give them the second spin-bowling option, which would be handy against India, at least in conditions where pacers don’t find any support. Livingstone’s statistics in the past two years has been next best to just Jason Roy and Alex Hales in the country. Given that Hales isn’t in the scheme of things and neither is Morgan hinting at a comeback for him, England would rather have Livingstone tested in the sub-continent.
Now not exactly a like-to-like for Malan, as mentioned, but Livingstone’s numbers in the middle-order surely suggests that he can take a fight. Against spinners, the right-hander averages 27.7, at a strike-rate of 132, surely suggesting that he could take a great fight and clear the boundary in the middle-overs, an impetus that has lacked for England in the series.
Characters three - Reece Topley
England have certainly not had to make any sort of changes to their bowling attack, with Mark Wood and Jofra Archer bowling this well. But when Wood did go down, instantly their trust was towards Tom Curran and not Reece Topley. Back in 2016, when Topley got two games, where he picked up just a wicket, he was still relatively a new-comer in the team. When you put that in comparison with Tom Curran, who has now become a T20 veteran for the country, the left-armer's records are massively an upgrade.
Since the turn of 2018, Curran has picked up just 45 wickets in 47 appearances. And this has come at an average of 16.5, a strike-rate of 9.6 and an economy rate of 10.36 in T20s from overs 17 to 20, essentially the death overs. However, in the same time span, Topley has not just toppled his efforts but by a significant margin - 17 wickets in 17 appearances, with an economy rate of 8.12 in the death whilst averaging 11.5 and a strike-rate of 8.5.
Meanwhile, England’s tested other bowler in the death - Sam Curran - has picked up 20 wickets in the 26 innings he bowled in the death. But during all of this, he has gone slightly over 10.87 RPO, an average of 18.8 and a strike-rate of 10.4, which suggests that he wouldn’t do the job as well too.
Now not playing him was one and ignoring him for Tom Curran, another. Given that England aren’t planning to bring back any of their past left-armed all-rounders into the setup, having Topley just in the squad wouldn’t suffice anything. He is, simply put, a superior bowler than Tom Curran and a more specialised death-over bowler than Sam Curran.