England’s bowlers have been told by the selectors that the team picked for the first Test against West Indies will be the strongest possible side, despite the acceptance that rotation will be a feature of the summer.
The 30-man training group named ahead of the West Indies series includes 18 seamers, with the ECB’s performance director Mo Bobat telling ESPNcricinfo last month that “our depth will get challenged” by a “pretty brutal schedule”. England are set to play six Tests in a seven-week window across the West Indies and Pakistan series, and the team’s management are expected to give opportunities to fringe players at some stage.
That could mean that Stuart Broad misses a Test match in England for the first time since 2012, breaking a streak that currently stands at 51 consecutive appearances at home. Speaking from the bubble at the Ageas Bowl on Sunday, Broad admitted that he was reluctant to miss any cricket, but accepted that there was a “bigger picture” for the support staff to consider.
“We’ve been told as a bowling group that the strongest team will be picked for the first Test. The aim is to get into that,” Broad said. “The last Test I missed in England was against West Indies in 2012, when I was named in the starting XI [before the toss] but it rained for the first two days and Andy Flower decided that a three-day Test match was one to take a rest from, over which we had an argument at the time.
“I don’t like missing cricket. I feel fit at the moment – my fitness tests have been as strong as ever in this come-back-to-cricket period – but we all know how hard fast bowling is. One of my strengths over the years has been to play consistently, so the body has been used to the workload, and it has never had that period of stopping, to then have that shock of coming back.
“That is the period we’re in now, and Ed Smith, James Taylor [England’s selectors] and Chris Silverwood [head coach] in the selection panel have been clear that, yes, we want to play our best team as often as possible, but we’re not going to put bodies at major risk.”
Despite his admission that he would rather not miss a Test, Broad conceded that the risk of injury will be heightened this summer. There have already been parallels drawn with football, where the Bundesliga and the Premier League have seen a spike in injury rates, and Broad used the example of James Anderson’s injury at Newlands to illustrate the problem.
“There is certainly no panic over the strength in depth of English fast bowling”
“We all wear these GPS devices now, and the stats that Phil Scott [England’s strength and conditioning coach] pulls together are quite interesting. He can almost predict when an injury might happen. If you bowl 25 or 30 overs in a day, you won’t get injured the next day – it’s a bounce of two weeks when the height of risk of injury comes, which is why rest and recuperation comes into it.
“If you’re in the team on July 8 and you do your job and bowl well and you bowl the team out by only bowling 20 overs in the Test then I’m assuming you’re going to play in the next game. That has got to be your aim, and I’d love the opportunity to start. It’s always going to be hard and frustrating if you’re told you’re not playing in a Test, but there is a bigger picture for them looking after us.
“We can see [from when] Jimmy came back on Boxing Day – we had a bit of illness, so he bowled loads on Boxing Day and then got injured ten days later. We want to avoid those sorts of things with our bodies not feeling as tough, as cricket-hardened as they would be in a normal summer.”
If England do choose to rotate, they will not have any shortage of options to choose from. Players on the fringes of selection like Saqib Mahmood, Jamie Overton and Ollie Robinson will push for inclusion in the final squad for this series in a three-day warm-up match starting on Wednesday, while England have already used as many as eight frontline seamers in Test cricket in the past 12 months.
“You have 30 people trying to get in 11 spots, so training has been nicely intense,” Broad said. “The coaches have been telling us to make sure we control our intensity a little, because obviously if we come in and spike our workloads and get up to too high an intensity, we risk injury.
“There is certainly no panic over the strength in depth of English fast bowling. We’ve all come here fit and fresh, which is rare for a fast-bowling group. The dream ticket is to board a flight for Brisbane [ahead of the 2021-22 Ashes] and having this lot of fast bowlers all ready to go.
“Can we have Olly Stone, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, these sort of pace guys, Woakes, Curran, Broad, Anderson, all fit, fresh and ready to go? If we can, we’ve got a chance of winning there.”
Jos Buttler in possession as England prepare to get back on the field
Jos Buttler is set to retain his place in England’s Test team for the start of the series against West Indies.
While Buttler has endured a lean run of form with the bat in recent Tests – he has averaged 23.32 in 13 Tests since the start of 2019 and 17.55 in five Tests since the end of the last English season – he retains the faith of the team management and is poised to keep the gloves ahead of competition from Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes.
Underlining that faith, Buttler has been confirmed as one of the team captains in England’s warm-up match, starting on Wednesday, and as England’s vice-captain in the first Test against West Indies next week. England’s regular Test vice-captain, Ben Stokes, has been promoted to the captaincy in the absence of Joe Root, on paternity leave, and Buttler is taking on Stokes’ previous role. England hope to have Root back for the second Test.
The three-day warm-up match will feature 27 players – there are 14 on Buttler’s side and 13 on Stokes’ – so will not have first-class status. The only three players from the 30-man training squad not taking part are Amar Virdi, Jamie Overton and Root. All three are understood to be fit, but Root is leaving the squad on Wednesday to attend the birth of his second child and the team management have decided that, in order for key players to gain the match practice required, there is no room for the other two. The match will be live-streamed from static cameras at each end of the ground on the ECB’s website
Although England’s head coach, Chris Silverwood, was giving little away when he spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon, he did confirm Buttler’s inclusion and hinted that, in general, those players “in possession” of places at the end of the South Africa tour might be in favourable positions. With the Sri Lanka tour subsequently postponed and the English domestic season curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, none of the players involved have played since the South Africa tour finished.
“I wouldn’t say selection is a blank page,” Silverwood said. “You know the people who are the mainstay, the engine room of the team. It is difficult to go too far away straight away from where we finished off.
“Jos will be vice-captain and he is in possession [of the gloves] at the moment. No, you don’t [have to be a genius] to work that out.”
That would appear to represent bad news for Foakes and Bairstow. While it remains possible England could recall Bairstow as a specialist batting replacement for Root – he is probably competing with Dan Lawrence and Joe Denly for the position – his preference for batting in the middle order may count against him.
Equally, it is possible England could play Buttler as a specialist batsman and recall Foakes. Certainly Buttler’s Test record as a specialist batsman – 35.68 in 20 Tests – is significantly better than his record as an all-rounder – he averages 27.43 in 21 Tests when he has kept – but all the evidence suggests England are inclined to make few changes.
If possession really is a key factor in this selection, it would appear to be good news for Denly and Dom Bess, too. But Denly could be squeezed by the return of Rory Burns at the top of the order, while Bess is fighting off competition from both Moeen Ali and Jack Leach as spinner. Moeen, with five Test centuries behind him, might have an especially strong claim for a recall in a side lacking Root.
The beneficiary of Root’s absence could well be Lawrence. While Denly’s durability has been admirable, his failure to register a century in his 14 Tests and his age (he’s 34) may both count against him. Lawrence impressed on the Lions tour to Australia – he made 190 in the warm-up match and 125 in the unofficial ‘Test’ – and, aged 22, is seen as a growing force. With one eye on a return to Australia in 18 months, this could be the time to promote him. Zak Crawley, who seemed to grow in stature with each appearance in South Africa, looks set to retain the No. 3 spot behind Burns and Dom Sibley.
“Dan has settled in very well,” Silverwood said. “He’s a confident guy. He has come in, been himself and played well. He’s certainly one of them that has put his best foot forward.”
The other area England are facing competition for places is in their seam bowling. The enforced break has given the bowlers an almost unique opportunity to rest and work on their strength and conditioning. The result is that, right now, they are all deemed fit.
“The only thing the lockdown has done is delivered me a load of fit fast bowlers,” Silverwood said. “All the guys coming back have had a good break. They are refreshed and they’re firing. They are very, very motivated to crack on. The one thing I have been impressed with is the shape that everyone has come back in.”
Crucially, the three quickest bowlers of those involved in this warm-up match – Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone – are all available, giving the selectors (and for this first Test, Stokes should be considered a selector) an intriguing dilemma. Wood, at his best, is hard to omit and claimed nine wickets in England’s most recent Test. But similar might be said about Archer, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Tough choices loom.
Team Stokes: Dominic Sibley, Keaton Jennings, Zak Crawley, Jonathan Bairstow, Ben Stokes (c), Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, Lewis Gregory, Craig Overton, Jack Leach, Olly Stone, James Anderson, Saqib Mahmood.
Team Buttler: Rory Burns, James Bracey, Joe Denly, Dan Lawrence, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (c), Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Robinson.
Warwickshire sizing up move for Dom Bess as Jeetan Patel successor
Bess’s contract at Somerset expires at the end of the 2020 season, and ESPNcricinfo understands that Warwickshire see him as a potential long-term replacement for the retiring Jeetan Patel. The club’s sport director Paul Farbrace is known to be an admirer from his time working with Bess as England’s assistant coach, and is hopeful that the prospect of first-team cricket in all formats might lure him to Edgbaston.
From this season, counties are no longer required to give 28 days’ notice to other clubs before entering negotiations with an out-of-contract player, and have been free to do so since the beginning of June. It is understood that Warwickshire are yet to make a formal approach to Somerset or to Bess’s agent, but that they are likely to do so later in the summer.
Bess spent two months of last season on loan at Yorkshire, playing four County Championship games and six T20s. Head coach Andrew Gale said at the time that the club would “try everything we can” to sign him permanently, but the situation is complicated this year by the fact 12 players at the club are out of contract at a time when funds are limited due to the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There may be several contributing factors when Bess makes his decision whether or not to stay at Taunton. He is currently Somerset’s second-choice red-ball spinner behind Jack Leach, whose contract runs until 2022, but they are competing against one another – and Moeen Ali – for a place in England’s Test team.
Neither player is currently on a central contract – Leach was awarded an incremental contract for 2019-20, meaning the ECB top up his county salary – but both will hope to win one for 2020-21 if they can hold down a spot this summer.
Bess also has ambitions to play white-ball cricket, but has only made four limited-overs appearances (three 50-over, one T20) for Somerset to date. Max Waller, Somerset’s main T20 spinner, is also out of contract at the end of the year, while allrounder Roelof van der Merwe’s deal runs until 2021. It also remains to be seen whether Bess would want move to the Midlands, having bought a house in Taunton two years ago.
Another promising bowler whose contract expires at the end of the season is Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner. Crane has had a frustrating two years with injuries, but was part of the initial 55-man training group named by England in May and will come into contention for the ODI series against Ireland at the end of the month. He was expecting to focus on white-ball cricket this year after Hampshire signed Nathan Lyon to complement Liam Dawson in their Championship side, but the opportunity to play across formats elsewhere could turn his head.
Somerset may also face a battle to keep hold of the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie. Both players’ contracts expire at the end of the season, and are sure to attract interest from any clubs in a financial position to offer them a deal. Somerset declined to comment.
Ben Stokes to captain England as Joe Root misses first West Indies Test
Ben Stokes will captain England for the first time in the first Test against West Indies starting next week.
Joe Root, England’s permanent red-ball captain, will miss the first Test and Wednesday’s warm-up match to attend the birth of his second child. Root’s wife, Carrie, is due to give birth later this week.
The ECB confirmed that Root will have to self-isolate for seven days at home once he leaves hospital with his family. He is expected to be available for the second Test of the series, which starts at Emirates Old Trafford on July 16, and will join up with the squad at the ground on July 13.
Stokes said in a virtual press conference that he will look to take the “positive route” as captain, and Root has previously backed him for the role, saying that he would be “fantastic” at leading the Test team.
Stokes is likely to become England’s least-experienced captain in their history, never having captained a first-class, List A or T20 game in his career. According to the Times, the only other man to captain England in Test cricket in the last 50 years without having captained in a first-class game was Kevin Pietersen, who had previously led in an ODI.
Stokes admitted on Monday that he was “not one of those people you would necessarily think of as the next England captain”. He was initially awarded the vice-captaincy in 2016 before losing the role a year later following his involvement in the Bristol incident that overshadowed the 2017-18 Ashes series. He won the role back ahead of last year’s Ashes series after reaching out to Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, following the World Cup final.
Jos Buttler will be Stokes’ vice-captain, in a move that hints he will take the wicketkeeping gloves in the first Test, and the pair will each lead one side in tomorrow’s warm-up game.
Confirmation that Root will miss the first Test leaves England with an interesting selection dilemma. Dom Sibley and Rory Burns are expected to open the batting, but Zak Crawley and Joe Denly had seemed to be competing for one spot at No. 3. Root’s absence could mean both play, or that there is an opportunity for Dan Lawrence to bat at No. 4. Alternatively, either Ollie Pope or Stokes himself could move up to No. 4, opening up a spot in the middle order for Jonny Bairstow.
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