MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 23: Mason Crane of England prepares to bowl during an England nets session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

England Lions’ Weak Performance Reveals A Worrying Lack Of Depth

While most of the cricketing world’s attention has been focused on India’s tour of South Africa and the beginning of the Pakistan Super League, the England Lions tour of the West Indies has gone relatively unnoticed. Perhaps that is for the better. The England Lions’ squad is particularly strong, on paper at least, boasting Keaton Jennings, Haseeb Hameed, Toby Roland-Jones and Mason Crane to name just a few. They have all been involved in England’s international Test squad recently.

However, after losing two the first two four-day matches, the England Lions have already lost the series to the West Indies A side. The series has been a humbling experience for a strong group of players and has revealed an alarming lack of depth in England’s Test squad.

Openers Fail To Impress

The question of who should partner Alastair Cook has plagued the England selectors for several years, but Mark Stoneman has proven himself to be a more than capable opener. Before they settled on him, England looked at Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed. It was no surprise, therefore, to see them sent off to the West Indies with the England Lions as they are now probably England’s back-up openers.

Part of the reason for this was Alex Hales’ bizarre decision to sign a white-ball only contract, showing a worrying lack of interest in the longer format. Nevertheless, as Alastair Cook’s career begins to wind to a close, it is imperative that England have an abundance of openers to choose from. This is emphatically not the case though.
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Hameed and Jennings have failed to find any consistency and have fared poorly on the tour so far. Jennings started the tour positively with a 49 in his first innings, facing 130 balls in a show of great determination. Since then, though, Jennings has failed to cross 30 and suffered a humiliating 12-ball duck in the second innings of the first match. For a player who has a Test hundred in India, this is really not good enough.

His partner Hameed has suffered a similar fate. He has managed a feeble 93 runs in four innings, averaging below 25 with a top score of just 39. Before this tour, Hameed and Jennings would have been considered viable options to replace either Cook or Stoneman, but that will no doubt come under scrutiny in the autopsy following this tour.

Middle Order’s Staggering Inconsistency

If you look at the scores of the England Lions’ middle order, you can see a very similar pattern beginning to develop:

NRT Gubbins: 50, 20, 0, 22

JM Clarke: 1, 31, 56, 6

LS Livingstone: 21, 1, 0, 48

BT Foakes: 16, 20

P Coughlin: 60, 11, 0, 47

AL Davies: 4, 21

Every batsman who has crossed fifty has a score of either nought or one, and this observation even holds with Liam Livingstone who came close to reaching that landmark. Perhaps with the exception of Durham’s Paul Coughlin, this England Lions middle order has failed to find any consistency at all. This has been their greatest undoing, with their bowlers putting in a decent performance, and they have not crossed the 300 mark as a team once.
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James Vince and Dawid Malan were under heavy scrutiny coming into the Ashes series, but strong performances from them have thwarted their critics for the moment. Still though, with their international careers at an early stage, a strong performance from Nick Gubbins or Liam Livingstone would have really put their positions under threat.

The same applies for Ben Foakes who was included in England’s Ashes squad, but did not get a game. Unfortunately, he may have to wait significantly longer to represent his country.

Mason Crane Does Not Deserve A Spot In England’s Test Squad

You can’t help but feel that Mason Crane’s Test cameo is over. Somehow Crane found himself playing the final Ashes Test at Sydney, where he looked unsettled and struggled with his run-up on numerous occasions. The strong Australian top-order cashed in on his nerves and he ended up with figures of 48-3-193-1 in his first innings.
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Crane would no doubt have been looking forward to bowling to a vastly weaker opposition in spin-friendly conditions.

It seems to be a spinners paradise out in the West Indies at the moment. The West Indies A spinners took 16 wickets between them in the first outing, with Rakheem Cornwall even opening the bowling in England’s second innings.

The second match was weighted even more in favour of the spinners. Cornwall and Jomel Warrican, the leading spin duo for the West Indies A side, took all ten England wickets between them in the first innings. They then took eight more in the second innings.

After all this, you’d expect Mason Crane to have cashed in. He has taken only one wicket in the series so far. Crane has conceded 115 runs in the process. This is seriously worrying. Crane does not deserve a spot in England’s Test squad anymore, that much is clear.

His spin partner Jack Leach is a much better option. Leach has performed well domestically for several seasons and has taken 14 wickets this season. He should be England’s next frontline spinner.

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