India Test series: Whether to pick Ben Stokes, Alastair Cook's lack of runs and no spinner give England selectors plenty to ponder
But at least the tourists continue to look rusty in their warm-up matches
England’s selectors were confronted with four major concerns as they sat down to ponder their options for the flagship Test series of the summer against India. These were, in no particular order, whether to pick Ben Stokes – the solitary beacon of hope from the winter who has been omitted so far this season on the grounds of having played too little – where they might find a sufficiently qualified specialist spinner, how to halt a run of eight Tests without a win and when their preferred captain, Alastair Cook, might make some runs again.
All are connected to some degree. If Cook starts scoring, it might help both his captaincy and the team’s results. Equally if they could somehow unearth a spinner worth a turn, so to speak, that might in time yield dividends.
As for Stokes, he is one of those rare sportsmen who somehow fits the big time like a glove. A broken hand sustained when angrily hitting a dressing-room locker in Antigua cost him the early season. It is time – if it was not three weeks ago – for him to return now, possibly at the expense of Chris Jordan.
With five Tests matches being shoehorned into six weeks it is highly improbable that either side will be able to keep the same XI. Everybody will be exhausted in mind and body after it and Cook’s tenure of office will either have been extended or ended.
Cook was given yet more backing for continuing from Stuart Broad, one half of the experienced opening bowling duo which will have to return to its halcyon days if England are to prevail in any comfort.
“We spent the last day on how he’s going back home to his farm to count chickens and lambs and that sort of thing,” said Broad. “He’s a relaxed guy. We know we’re in a stats-driven business and a results-driven business.
“When you are not scoring your runs or taking your wickets, you expect a certain amount of flak. That won’t change until he scores a hundred and Cooky knows that.
“Winning Test matches will help with his captaincy but even if we are winning and he is not scoring hundreds he’ll still be getting a certain amount of stick. He’s very honest and very open and he knows he is just a score away. Then the pressure will come off him.”
England’s players who are certain to feature in the squad for the first Test, which starts at Trent Bridge a week today, have spent the last two days at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough.
While the selectors will have known the identity of most of their cadre – and will be delighted that three of the new boys made hundreds and a recalled bowler took nine wickets in a match – there remains the spin conundrum. Unsatisfactory though it is, Moeen Ali may continue as a part-timer.
India remain rusty as they put most of their bowlers through their paces against Derbyshire in a practice match featuring their whole squad and deprived of first-class status. The seamers, heavily attacked by Leicestershire at the weekend, continued to look underpowered.
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