Decision time for Trevor Bayliss as England ponder team selection for first Test in Sri Lanka

Jonny Bairstow will miss the first match in the series with an ankle injury

Ed Malyon
Galle
@eaamalyon
Sunday 04 November 2018 19:38
comments
Trevor Bayliss faces a number of key decisions ahead of the first Test
Trevor Bayliss faces a number of key decisions ahead of the first Test

Trevor Bayliss has some decisions to make.

The England coach won’t be alone in picking the team to face Sri Lanka in Tuesday’s first Test at Galle, but he will be the guiding light with input from captain Joe Root and overseen, through those circular sunglasses of his, by national selector Ed Smith.

Bayliss’ first decision to make is what to do to replace the injured Jonny Bairstow. With the Yorkshire wicketkeeper out, it is understood that the Australian coach is ready to bring in Surrey’s Ben Foakes for a Test debut that has been tipped since his days at Essex, though he would only admit that the 25-year-old was “very much in the picture”.

England have a remarkable amount of flexibility in this squad of players, with Bayliss admitting “there’s probably about five different combinations we could go with” when it comes to Tuesday morning.

Ben Foakes is in line for an England Test debut

“Our next decision is a little bit of a combination. What’s the batting order and does that change depending on which people we pick?

“And then the bowling combination. Do we go with a third spinner or an extra batter, for example?

“There are blokes like [Ben] Stokes for example: he’s in the team because he bats - it’s a bonus that he bowls. A little bit the same as Mo[een Ali], even though he probably bowls a little more.

“It just allows us the opportunity to put in the extra bowler or an extra batter when we want to, depending on the conditions that we come across. If we do go with three spinners we’ve got right arm off-spin, left-arm orthodox and leg spin. We’ve got all bases covered."

One player who looks increasingly unlikely to play in Galle is Joe Denly.

When asked about the spin-bowling all-rounder, Bayliss said: “we’ve probably agreed we’ll play the conditions here which means we’ll have different teams for different conditions between Galle and Kandy.

Jonny Bairstow will miss the first Test due to an ankle injury

“We’ll do what we have to,” he added, suggesting that the Kent man may have to sit out the first Test after a couple of scratchy performances in the warm-up fixtures last week and the emergence of Jack Leach as a complement to Ali and Adil Rashid as England's spin trio.

The gaggle of all-rounders who bowl both seam and spin give England almost unlimited options up and down the order, though, in this very flexible looking squad, and that is without even mentioning five players who have kept wicket in their career.

Though Bayliss and Root are unlikely to break out the long-awaited five-keeper strategy any time soon, not least because Bairstow isn’t fit, it appears an ever-increasing likelihood that Foakes will be selected as a specialist keeper - though one who averages a handy 40 in first-class cricket - because the England coach wants the best-possible gloveman behind the stumps given there could be days and days of spin bowling to stand up to.

Whether Foakes plays or not, Jos Buttler is one of the few England players guaranteed his spot in the team as a batsman alone and though Bayliss wasn’t critical of the Lancashire man’s keeping it was clear that his glove work had come under the microscope a little.

Joe Denly is likely to miss out after a couple of shaky warm-up performances

“I think he’d be the first to agree he’s kept better at different times.

“We know he is a good keeper but sometimes here, on these different wickets, it doesn’t come through quite so well and it shows up a little bit of footwork.

“But we know he’s been in the nets and working very hard over the last week or so and gloved them pretty well in the practice game.”

And while it does appear that Bayliss and his close advisors are coming close on some decisions, the England coach insisted that until he sees the track on Monday or Tuesday, the XI won’t be decided for sure.

“We certainly haven’t finalised an XI yet. We want a final look at the wicket over the next 24 hours.

“I think we’re getting closer but I think we’d be silly to make a decision now two days out.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments