England’s Left-Field Call Ups
Updated: May 17
The stresses and strains of the international cricket schedule are becoming more and more visible with every year.
By the end of this summer alone, England have played in limited over series’ against India, the Netherlands and South Africa alongside Test matches against New Zealand, India and South Africa. It is wall-to-wall cricket. Great for the spectator, not so good for the players with intense physical demands on their bodies.
Ben Stokes cited the schedule in his decision to retire from ODI cricket but, whilst it was a shock, it was understandable.
Ben Stokes' ODI retirement was shocking but perhaps not unexpected
(Photo credit: Jack Meacher)
In the last three years, England have, to their credit, been mixing up their squads. Sometimes this is enforced through limited overs series close to a Test series or covid outbreaks. Sometimes it has been due to resting and rotating players with heavy workloads.
England are in a fortunate position though, they have some of the greatest limited overs squad depth in the world, perhaps bar India so can afford to give a number of players a chance.
That being said, England have had their fair share of left-field call ups over the years in all three formats of the game. That’s not to say these players haven’t deserved the recognition, they really have, it just usually comes at an odd time in those players’ careers.
There’s always been the occasional surprising call-up (who could forget Darren Pattinson) but they seem to be happening more and more lately.
Richard Gleeson v India T20 Series
Currently, England do have a bowling injury crisis on their hands at the moment in all three formats but this has affected the limited overs set up most of all.
Without going through all the names, England are lacking the services of Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes and Saqib Mahmood, amongst others.
Even so, a call up for 34 year-old Richard Gleeson was certainly a surprise, especially against the might of India.
The call up was well-deserved in context of the season, the Lancashire bowler taking the most wickets in the Blast. In the context of consistency perhaps not so much. It has been well documented about Gleeson’s route to the top, juggling professional cricket with coaching in schools, not making his pro debut until the age of 27 etc but his first three wickets of Sharma, Kohli and Pant proved his worth.
An unglamorous pick perhaps, but one that paid off.
Sam Billings v Australia Ashes series
Unlike Gleeson, Billings has been a recognisable face in England squads since 2015 and his appearance for England is not really a surprise. Unless it’s in a Test match.
(Photo credit: Jack Meacher)
In another era, Billings probably could have counted around thirty Tests to his name by this stage of his career. He has, however, had the distinct professional misfortune of being around at the same time as two of England’s great, white-ball wicket-keepers in Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. His ability with the bat has granted him a number of ODI and T20 games for England but in Tests he falls even further behind the likes of Ben Foakes, James Bracey and maybe even Ollie Pope.
It was therefore a surprise when England turned to Billings for the final Ashes Test in Hobart with both Buttler and Bairstow injured.
A perfectly competent First Class cricketer and captain of Kent it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility but Billings happened to be in Australia at the time (albeit a nine hour drive away in Brisbane at the time of his call up) and found himself with the gloves at the highest level in the fifth Test.
Since his debut, a change of management has meant that Billings’ counter-attacking style of play has been very much in fashion with Brendon McCullum’s style so he was an obvious choice during Ben Foakes’ covid lay-off.
John Simpson v Pakistan ODI series
To back up the earlier point of Sam Billings being one of a number of high-calibre English wicket-keepers in the same generation, you can add John Simpson to the mix.
A consistent performer throughout his career, Simpson finally got his England cap aged 33 against Pakistan in the ODI series after the entirety of the previous England squad were exposed to covid and were forced to isolate.
The Middlesex keeper played in all three games and whilst he didn’t necessarily play a starring role, a win percentage of 100% in all your international games is no bad thing.
The aforementioned strength in depth meant that Simpson quickly became a forgotten name for England but his three games for his country were well deserved off the back of years of graft on the county circuit.
David Payne v Netherlands ODI series
David Payne is another name who's been doing the same…as John Simpson.
Years of consistent performances for Gloucestershire finally led the fast-medium bowler to getting picked against the Netherlands in their three games in Amsterdam.
For many years now, Gloucestershire has been a very unfashionable county to play for if you want to play international cricket, since Jon Lewis was around the England set up in the mid-2000s, only James Bracey has managed to get himself a game for his country whilst at the western county.
Admittedly, if Payne had to choose an away fixture to play in, he’d probably far more likely go for Australia at the MCG but the Netherlands in Amsterdam would have to do.
Midway through a Test series and against an Associate Nation, England chose to rest a lot of key players for the hectic summer ahead meaning Payne got the call up.
In the final game, the third ODI, Payne eventually got his call up. His one wicket, that of captain Scott Edwards, who was going well at the time.
England are not alone in their unlikely call-ups, it is something that does seem to be happening more and more. Scott Boland’s call up for Australia seemingly came out of nowhere, whilst India seem to have an indefinite barrel-load of successful IPL players to pull out of the hat it makes it impossible to keep up.
Are there any other names in world cricket who surprised you when they got the nod? Let us know across all our platforms @cricketdistrict