After all the turbulence, England’s squad for the first Test of the summer was bound to be remarkable. Nor did it disappoint when James Whitaker, the new chairman of selectors, announced 12 names on Thursday.
It contained three uncapped players, all of whom will be included in the team for the match against Sri Lanka at Lord’s starting on Thursday, a bowler who has not played a Test for seven years, and no proper spinner. It did not contain perhaps the two most exciting players in the country, both of whom – even in an age of revolution – must wait their turn.
The new men are Sam Robson, who will open the batting with the captain, Alastair Cook; Moeen Ali, who will bat at six and provide some functional off-spin; and Chris Jordan, a fast bowler who has been uniformly impressive in the limited-overs teams. Both Robson, an Australian, and Jordan, a Barbadian, chose to come to England to advance their cricket in their late teens.
There is no place for either the all-rounder Ben Stokes, who was one of the few blessings for England in their tortured winter in Australia, or for the wicketkeeper-batsman, Jos Buttler, who has galvanised England’s one-day batting.
Stokes was decreed not to be ready after playing only one Championship match for Durham since breaking his hand hitting a locker on being dismissed in a one-day international in the West Indies in March. Buttler, exciting though he is, was overlooked in favour of the vastly experienced Matt Prior, who has overcome his chronic Achilles injury. The selectors probably thought that fielding four debutants was a step too far.
Liam Plunkett’s express pace for Yorkshire in the early part of the season has won him a recall. England have played 85 Tests since he won the most recent of his nine caps, at Old Trafford in June 2007. Only five players have seen more matches come and go. He will probably be preferred next Thursday to Chris Woakes, an understandable but not widely predicted choice, who played his solitary Test last August.
“It was a challenging but enjoyable squad to pick,” said Whitaker. “In a way there was a fresh feel, with new coaches, a new energy about the team and a captain that’s really invigorated about taking the team forward.”
The four-man selection panel of Whitaker, Angus Fraser, Mick Newell and the coach Peter Moores was joined in its two-hour deliberations on Tuesday by Cook and Paul Downton, the new managing director of England cricket. Whitaker clearly intends to be collegiate in selecting teams. He said it was agreed that England needed a spine of experience. Five of the squad have 67 caps or more, six have fewer than 10.
“They will form the spine of the team,” said Whitaker. “But I will say there is now expectation on those senior players not only to deliver their skills but help re-energise the team and integrate in the right, positive way newcomers. It’s very important that they do that. They have all got to be fit and firing.”
If it will be genuinely exciting (and slightly traumatising) to watch England’s top six at work in the coming weeks, the squad reveals a genuine concern because of its lack of a spinner. Joe Root and Ali both bowl off-breaks but they are not real off-spin bowlers. It is neither an advisable nor a sustainable policy, as Whitaker is well aware.
“We have got some quality developing spinners but in this squad at the moment they haven’t got a guy who bats at No 11 and will bowl you x amount of overs on a dry, dusty one,” he said. “We’re not going to get those conditions anyway.
“We have got some emerging spinners but you’ve just got to get experience and spin is a department that takes more years than others. We’re aware we’re going to have to work on introducing a spinner into the squad and we’re going to give it some careful thought. We’re all aware of that but the whole issue is one of supply and demand.”
With the Ashes to recapture next year, England will have to act with alacrity. They will have no chance whatever against Australia with an all-seam attack and although it is unlikely to do them any harm against Sri Lanka, it still looks an unbalanced side.
Such is the flux in the game at present that it is becoming commonplace to field new players. In their last Test match, against Australia in Sydney last January, England played three debutants; and in their last Test match at home, they played two. Of those five, only two are in this squad so none of this lot should rent their houses out for the summer while they go on a Test tour of the country.
England’s tactics are clear already. With Plunkett given licence to bowl rapidly and with freedom, the intention is to knock Sri Lanka’s block off. It will not be especially pretty, it ought to be effective.
Two of Sri Lanka’s top six made centuries in their first four-day game of the tour against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road, Kaushal Silva making 152 and Lahiru Thirimanne 120 out of a total of 358 for three after the tourists won the toss and elected to bat.
THE NEW BOYS
Australian-born and schooled, he came to England aged 18. Now almost 25, he has scored seven Championship hundreds for Middlesex. He was admirable for England Lions last winter and is expected to open the innings in the long term. “This is my home, this is where my cricket has taken me. I love living in London, I love England and this is where my life is.”
Long tipped for international status, 27 later this month, his elegant batting has progressed in the last two years at Worcestershire. His off-spin bowling is not much to be excited about, although it is getting better. “I’m chuffed to bits to get the call and I’m ready to go. To hit a bit of form the week before the Test is nice.”
Arrived from Barbados on a scholarship at Dulwich College. The early excitement at Surrey dissipated but at 25, he has been reborn at Sussex and in a year has gone from a doubtful county starter to deserved Test status. His ungainly run-up does not seem to affect the proficiency and zeal of his fast bowling.
England squad for the first Investec Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's, starting on Thursday, June 12
AN Cook (capt), MM Ali, JM Anderson, GS Ballance, IR Bell, SCJ Broad, CJ Jordan, LE Plunkett, MJ Prior (wkt), SD Robson, JE Root, CR Woakes.