How will England replace key injured batter for India semi-final?
Dawid Malan is expected to be unavailable for the semi-finals after being forced off the field with an injury in the first innings of England’s win over Sri Lanka to secure qualification from Group 1.
The left-handed number three has been a mainstay of the English T20I side in recent years, scoring 1748 runs at an average of 38.84 in an anchor role near the top of the order.
Malan’s consistency and volume of runs have kept him near the top of the MRF ICC Batting Rankings for a number of years, topping that list for long stretches. He remains England’s best-ranked batter in the T20 format, currently lying sixth in the world.
The likely absence of Malan from the XI to face India creates a selection dilemma for Jos Buttler’s side.
Here are the various options facing the England selectors:
Pick Phil Salt as a direct batting replacement
Big-hitting opener Phil Salt is the sole batting cover in England’s squad in Australia. If the preference is to maintain a batting-heavy selection approach then Salt is the obvious pick, but there are three possible options for how he would slot into the XI.
As a straight swap at No. 3
Salt could potentially come straight into the side in Malan’s position at first drop.
The advantage of this approach is it would avoid England having to shuffle their batting order at a crucial stage of the tournament.
But Salt rarely plays at number three for his county or franchise teams, has never been picked there for England, and his selection would leave the team with a top three of exclusively right-handers.
As an opening batter
Salt’s preference is to open the batting, where he looks to get fast starts at high strike rates. He hits in excess of 150.53 across his county and franchise T20 career, and has a strike rate of 164.33 for England.
Opening with Salt would likely see Alex Hales shift down a spot to number three. Hales would be an intimidating player to come in at three, but he seems to have found form at the top of the order and almost solely plays as an opener in the T20 format, so moving him now would be a risk.
As a finisher
If England do opt to play Salt, probably the likeliest way to fit him into the side is down the order as a finisher.
The Lancastrian's fast-starting style does lend itself to that role, in much the same way as Australia have moved Matthew Wade from top-order hitter to finisher.
Whether Salt would come in at five, six, or seven is unclear and would likely depend on match-ups and game situation. But England did test him out in such a role against the West Indies earlier this year, with Salt twice named at seven and once at six. A quickfire 57 from 24 balls highlighted his ability to play that role.
Picking Salt potentially at seven would also give England the chance to shift Ben Stokes up to three, where he seems more naturally suited, and would also give license to push the dangerous Moeen Ali, Liam Livingstone, or both up the order.
Replace Malan with an extra bowler
England played the Super 12 stage with a batting-heavy strategy, naming four front-line bowlers and then using Stokes, Ali and Livingstone to cover the remainder of the overs.
But prior to the tournament it appeared that Buttler’s preference was a bowling-heavy selection, with England typically naming five bowlers in the previous six months.
If England do opt for such an approach they can cover it in the batting order by simply moving everyone up one, with Sam Curran more than capable of featuring as a number seven.
But there are two contrasting choices for the sort of bowler they would bring in.
The death-overs specialist: Chris Jordan
No fast bowler has taken more T20 wickets for England than Jordan, and he can swing a bat too.
The 34-year-old had been a regular pick in the side for the previous eight years, but slipped out of the XI in the last 12 months after being dismantled in the semi-final loss to New Zealand at the last World Cup.
Jordan’s pace, variations and death-bowling skills would give the team another option towards the back end of the innings and allow them to unleash Mark Wood earlier on the India top order.
However, the combination of Sam Curran, Wood and the odd over from Chris Woakes or Stokes has seen England perform above expectations at the death in this tournament. Disrupting that formula could be seen as a risk.
The left-arm swing option: David Willey
Willey has been on the fringes of white-ball selection for England since being bumped down the pecking order by the arrival of Jofra Archer.
A wicket-taking swing bowler, Willey’s main attribute with the ball is finding swing and targeting wickets in the Powerplay. He’s handy with the bat too.
It could be tempting to pick a player capable of troubling India’s talented top-order with his movement through the air.
Yet England already have swing-bowling options for those first six overs in Woakes, Stokes and Curran, so may deem Willey as surplus to requirements.
Salt as a top-order batter, Jordan as a death bowler, Willey as a Powerplay bowler, or Salt as a finisher. England have a big call to make.
The option they choose could be the difference between a World Cup Final appearance and an early flight home.
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