Do England play too many all-rounders?

Moeen Ali and Joe Root

The answer is no. But let’s explore the question anyway.

England have just added Liam Dawson to their squad. He joins Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid in one of the most all-rounderly squads England have ever assembled. He also replaces Zafar Ansari, another spin bowling all-rounder.

Dissipation of responsibility

If a team has nine batsmen, the majority of whom are all as good as each other, does any one individual feel that the onus is on them to score runs?

It’s not so much the by-stander effect, where people stand passively by assuming someone else will sort things out. These players are desperate to perform, after all. It’s more to do with the way they go about their business.

It’s often said that the great advantage of being an all-rounder like Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff or Ben Stokes is that it allows a certain freedom. If you’re also a bowler, your place in the side doesn’t hinge on how many runs you score. You can still influence a match, even when you fail with the bat.

This is generally seen as a good thing as it permits the kind of freewheeling innings that a single-bow-stringed cricketer might be loath to even attempt.

Judged solely on weight of runs, the specialist batsman can often be more risk averse and this is perhaps the crux of things. There are times when it is good to take risks and impose oneself and there are other times – such as when conditions are in your favour anyway – when it is better to avoid risk and simply try and cash in to the maximum.

Mass three-dimensionality

So what is the cumulative effect of having a whole raft of players liable to think: “At least I can make up for this failure with the ball”?

Does it cant the side in one particular direction, encouraging just a little too much… let’s not say irreponsibility – that’s a little extreme.

Does it leave the team likely to err on the side of ‘taking the positive option’?

Conclusion

Our view is that even if there is some truth in this, it is surely outweighed by the benefits. If Ben Stokes alone is like having an extra man, then this current England side is incredibly well staffed.

It’s therefore a little dispiriting to think that even with 15 men they’re being totally dominated by India (although on recent evidence, the home team isn’t exactly short-handed itself).

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22 Appeals

  1. There’s no such thing as too many all-rounders, but there is such a thing as too many “all-rounders”.

    If every single player in the XI averaged 35 with the bat and 30 with the ball in every series (or 30 with the bat and 25 with the ball, etc), I think I’d be fine with that.

    If every single player in the XI was basically a No. 7 batsmen and a dibbly dobbly filth-chucker…. actually I wouldn’t mind that either, but I doubt it would be a very successful formula.

  2. Given how desperate and muddled the selection policy now seems, especially on the spin bowling side, would it not have been worth at least trying out Leach or Rayner?

  3. It does feel like England need to pick the best 5 batsmen in the Top 5 (shocking analysis I know), and if one of them is Bairstow (Spoiler: It is) then have someone else keep. I love him dearly, but I’m finding it quite hard work to get my head around what Moeen actually is these days. And that isnt necessarily his fault.

    Problem being of course that in the past year alone they have had Bell, Taylor, Compton, Samit, Hales, Duckett, Vince and Hameed all at some point in the order, and only Hameed actually looks like he might play a bit more (Taylor unfortunate of course, but he still hadn’t really pulled up any trees). They are getting round to people like Jennings now, who has a FC average of 35.

    Maybe the answer is Moeen becomes a batsman that is judged by that alone, perhaps takes over the Root “bowl a bit if nobody else fancies it”, and then pick Rashid as the main spinner in all conditions.

    TLDR: pick specialists, but the specialists might be worse than the all-rounders.

    • But Jennings had a “breakthrough” season this year and obviously upped his performance from previous years, when he wasn’t as good. Also, he opens in division one (or at least he did) and plays half his games at Durham (at time of writing…). So maybe his average doesn’t tell the whole story. He still might not cut the mustard, but he probably deserves a chance at least as much as Duckett did based on the season he’s just had.

      • King Cricket

        December 1, 2016 at 6:39 pm

        Deserves it more. Which isn’t meant as a slight on Duckett.

      • I know what you mean, but loads of people have one good season. My point was more that ideally, these players would be scoring 4000 runs over three seasons before getting the nod

        Div 1 most runs:
        2016 – Jennings
        2015 – Hildreth
        2014 – Lyth
        2013 – Ballance
        2012 – Compton

        I know you can read too much into stats, but that isn’t a ringing endorsement. All of the players that had the best season other than Hildreth got a go for England within 12 months, none seem to be that near playing again. Producing Test batsmen is a serious problem.

      • King Cricket

        December 2, 2016 at 10:19 am

        Well yeah, but the truth is that regardless of whether they were a success at Test level or not, those probably are the best players around. Compton, Lyth and Ballance all had multiple good seasons, not just one. Hildreth too, but we omit him on the grounds that he hasn’t yet had a chance to play for England.

      • That’s the point though. Having burned through all those, we are now getting into “Had a good season” range. How long until we hit “Had a good month” or “Scored runs in the tourist match”?

      • King Cricket

        December 2, 2016 at 1:01 pm

        Well if it takes long enough, there should at least be additional good seasons to throw into the mix.

    • Didn’t Vaughan have a very mediocre FC average when picked for England? Or is my memory failing me?

      • King Cricket

        December 2, 2016 at 9:02 am

        He did. Trescothick too. They are often cited in these situations – although neither had had a season like Jennings, so it shouldn’t really be necessary.

      • When a firm wants to take on a new member of staff for a key role, they get people to apply and then whittle them down by some process or other. Usually this is handled by the HR Department (who have just been on a course). They apply standardised psychometric testing, ask the candidate to list their weaknesses, and create a spreadsheet on which the candidates are scored against 27 key metrics. And the people they employ are never wrong. They’re never quite right either, but they are at least never wrong. The chosen person wears a grey suit, works hard, and eventually rises to Assistant Regional Sales Manager (Inverness).

        And then, every now and again a maverick who has actually done the job for years gets to choose. He sees something intangible in the oiky lad who has turned up in jeans and thinks, d’you know what, I’m going to give him a go. And often this is disastrous. And sometimes it isn’t, and when it isn’t, it is spectacularly good.

        Right, now I’m going to explain. In this story, the HR Department is County Championship performance, if a department of people can actually be a statistical concept. What’s that – they can’t? OK, it’s the spreadsheet the HR people make that is the CC performance. Yes, that’s better. In fact, the County Championship is like a recruitment spreadsheet with only one column of data. The people who think CC stats are a good way to pick the England team are the HR Department staff.

        That last sentence is probably quite insulting to those people. Sorry.

        That I found the need for that apology is probably quite insulting to HR staff. Sorry.

        Sorry.

  4. I don’t think the issue is the all-rounder factor.

    The issue is the inability (or perhaps I should say slow learning) of most of these players to adapt their batting technique for test matches in Asian conditions.

    In both of the last two test matches, England have thrown several wickets away early in the first innings. It is nigh-on impossible to recover from 80/5 or 87/4 in those conditions.

    England might have gone on to lose both of those matches anyway, but cricket is a strange game in which pressure can cause one team or the other to collapse in a heap. If India had got to 204/6 in Mohali after England had posted 383 rather than 283…

    I think there is bags of potential in this all-rounder heavy group of players and I think England should mostly persevere with them medium term and shall almost certainly do so. Dawson and Jennings are both in as injury cover, not through an old-style selection panic based on losing a couple of tests.

    • Of all the recent comments, this one makes the most sense to me. If experience can be the mother of wisdom in cricket (in an age when cricketers are retiring younger) then these tests in India might lead England on to be a stronger side by learning from all this. Adapting. There’s fitness regimes, diet and all that guff so it would be great if the batsmen could go on for a good while to come. For the bowlers, however, it’s more a matter of mileage than years, obviously. Perhaps I just got bored of commentators banging on about Misbah-Ul-Haq being 40. So what.

  5. Ignoring Rashid (because he’s been effectively a bowler in this series), and Ansari (because being rubbish at both disciplines doesn’t make you an all-rounder) lets have some in depth analysis on the all-rounders.

    Stokes: scored runs, taken wickets. Good
    Moeen: not scored runs, not taken many wickets. Bad.
    Woakes: not scored many runs, not taken many wickets. Bad.

    Conclusion: If Stokes is worth two men because he’s performing well with bat and ball, does than mean Woakes and Moeen having a bad series is equivalently four players underperforming?

    • England play with 15 players (if Rashid is also counted as an all rounder), so they can afford to have 4 under performing players and still win. I think they’ve played pretty well given that most of the team has no experience playing in these conditions. A couple more good sessions and it would have been England leading 2-0 rather than India.

      They’ve not all turned into bad players, nor is the selection strategy suddenly flawed. Apart from Batty, they seem to be playing the best available players for the conditions. They’ve been far more competitive than SA or NZ and have performed much better an expected. They’ll go back to winning comfortably once they are back playing in home conditions. Then we’ll have cricinfo been calling Cook batman and Stokes batmobile and all the other nonsensical stuff from the article about the Indian team on the homepage.

  6. The strangest factoid of all at the moment is that England’s lacklustre performance in the subcontinent has catapulted the nation to greater heights in the test rankings – now 2nd (I think we set of for Asia in 4th).

    Australia and Pakistan’s dismal performances being that much more dismal, it seems.

    Of course England still have two tests to go in India and the odds of England salvaging something from the series are about as low as the odds were for Brexit plus Trump six months ago…

  7. They don’t play enough Ian Bells.

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