England's 3-2 loss to Sri Lanka in the recent Royal London ODI Series may sound like a close affair, but in reality, the visitors were the much better side. One area which consistently let England down was the top-order batting, and it is a problem which needs to be solved before the World Cup in eight months time.
There is no denying that Alastair Cook and Ian Bell are both world class players, but an average of just 41 from the first power play of each innings is simply not good enough, especially when the par score for ODI's is quickly approaching 300. What is needed is explosion from the very beginning of the innings, and the man who can provide that is Alex Hales, a proven world class T20 batsmen, who is yet to be given his chance in the 50-over format.
That would mean Bell dropping out of the opening batsmen slot - an unfortunate but necessary circumstance - and batting at three. This would keep a 'world class' player at the top of the order and allow England to have a suitable solution if Hales or Cook did fall early in the innings.
Then, there is the question of who bats at number four, and it is answered with the player whom all experts have the same opinion of - England's best batsmen who should bat higher in the order - Eoin Morgan.
The unorthodox left handed Irishman has the highest ODI average of any current England player, as well as the second highest strike-rate, behind only hard-hitting wicket keeper, Jos Buttler. Once again, this addresses the issue of a lack of quick scoring at the start of the innings, as well as giving England's best ODI expert more time to bat than he is currently getting. Whats more, this would now mean having three of England's top-four as proven world-class batsmen, combined with one of the biggest hitting openers in the game, Alex Hales.
However, then comes the question of what to do with Gary Balance and Joe Root, England's current number three and four. At just 24 and 23, they are undoubtedly a part of England's future, but for now, the only concern should be the World Cup in eight months time, not in eight years time. Perhaps the England selectors feel that they could become these coveted 'world class' batsmen which every team needs in the space of eight months, but surely it is best to stick with what we have already got? Joe Root, the younger of the two, has already proved himself to be worthy of a place in all three formats of the game, as well as being a useful weapon with the ball in hand, so he would take the number five spot.
Ravi Bopara is undeniably the innings finisher, so his position should be cemented at six - so long as Ben Stokes doesn't take his place - but Jos Buttler is a different issue. I would have him as a so-called 'floating batsmen', ready to come in at any number, given the situation of the innings. He is a batsmen who should be used in every ODI England partake in, purely because there is not another bigger-hitter and finer-striker of the ball in this country, if not the world, and England must utilise that.
The bowling attack is a different issue altogether, with solidarity needed above all. Chris Jordan and Stuart Broad have to be in it; both are more than capable of taken wickets but also very handy with the bat, allowing England to bat in depth. Jimmy Anderson appears to be making his comeback to ODI's, and the World Cup in eight months time could be the perfect end to his One-Day career, with him also providing the senior support which Cook needs.
Then comes the issue of the spinner which England are seeking to replace the very big hole which Graeme Swann has left, and as things stand, the only man capable of putting a foot in that hole is James Tredwell.
What England need most of all in the next eight months is solidarity, with the selectors putting together a capable team who are consistently playing together and getting the match time which they need. Only once the World Cup is over should they start experimenting with new players and the 'new generation'. However, they may feel differently and many things could change over the next eight months, with plenty of players currently on the England horizon and working their way into the squad.
Therefore, based on the current circumstances, my England ODI XI would be:
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