The show goes on, but new-look England left facing ‘super’ challenge


ith major challenges looming at home and abroad, there are so many questions that arise as English cricket wakes after a day of Covid chaos. But for now they must all slink off, to be answered backstage, because the show must go on.

This morning, 18 English cricketers and a handful of management staff were sitting in hotel rooms in Cardiff awaiting the results of Covid-19 tests. All being well — and you only have to look around the country to know that is no certainty — they will be released from isolation early this afternoon, put on some brand new kit and meet up (some of them possibly for the first time) for their only training session before taking the field against Pakistan in a One-Day International at 1pm tomorrow.

Should we make it that far, it will be worth breathing a sigh of relief. This has been a rare example of English cricket pulling together for the good of the game.

The ECB acted decisively and impressively, and the counties, who have been disrupted, were accommodating. Huge credit must go to Pakistan, who have been understanding in a way that England probably would not have been were the boot on the other foot.

In a rare press appearance in March last year, ECB chief Tom Harrison said the challenge Covid-19 presented cricket was “keeping the lights on”. This week, the game has pulled together to do that.

The rewards are big crowds at Lord’s (100 per cent capacity) and Edgbaston (80 per cent), and, hopefully, more of the same later this summer, when India are in town. No precious TV revenue should be lost.

Exactly what England’s makeshift team will look like is anyone’s guess, but a few things are certain. First, that Babar Azam —the No1-ranked batter in men’s ODIs — will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing a scratch team in which the batting certainly looks stronger than the bowling.

Second, that this is the ultimate test of England’s vaunted white-ball depth. Not only were 16 of our finest in the breached bubble, but a load more are absent injured. Some of these players are stand-ins for understudies’ replacements.

David Payne, who could make a rather romantic international debut aged 30, is at best England’s fifth-choice white-ball left-arm seamer. The impressive wicketkeeping options in England are being stretched once more.

David Payne (centre) of Gloucestershire could be one of many debutants in this new-look England side

/ Getty Images

Third, there will be new caps dished out. Six of the squad have no international experience at all, and three more have never played an ODI. Six have between only one and four ODI caps, leaving James Vince (14) and Jake Ball (18) alongside Ben Stokes (98) — thank heavens for Stokes — as senior citizens.

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