By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England drop James Vince and hand surprise recall to Jos Buttler
- Joe Root moves to No.3 and Jonny Bairstow to No.5
- Young spinner Dom Bess replaces injured Jack Leach
LONDON, ENGLAND – After England’s disappointing winter in Australia and New Zealand, we assess the major talking points from new Head Selector Ed Smith’s First Test squad choices.
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England squad for the First Test against Pakistan:
Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, Joe Root (captain), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow (w/k), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Dominic Bess.
Bairstow’s promotion and Buttler’s inclusion could ignite England’s batting order
If Jos Buttler delivers, his inclusion in England’s Test squad could prove to be a masterstroke. He is one of the most talented cricketers in the world and has the ability to take apart a bowling attack. However, his modest record in red-ball cricket makes him a risky selection, and there will be plenty of naysayers lining up to say ‘I told you so’ if he does not perform well.
To their credit, Ed Smith and his fellow selectors have been clever in the way they have put the batting line-up together for the First Test against Pakistan.
They have moved the outstanding Jonny Bairstow up to number five – something they should have done as soon as Ben Stokes was ruled out of the recent Ashes series. This gives England a very strong-looking middle order of Joe Root, Dawid Malan, Bairstow and Stokes.
As long as that line-up performs to its ability, Buttler can come in at number seven without any real pressure on him beyond the desire to retain his own place in the side. This will allow him to play freely and attack, which is exactly what England want him to do.
If everything goes to plan, Buttler will do what Adam Gilchrist used to do for Australia and turn totals of 250 into 300 plus and totals of 300 into 400 plus by flaying tired bowlers to the boundary repeatedly.
If it all comes off, it will be magnificent to watch. But that is an awful lot of ‘ifs’, so it remains a big risk. We will soon see if it was the right call.
Have England dropped the wrong batsman?
If ever there was an innings that should prompt a last-minute rethink from the England selectors, then James Vince’s exceptional 201 from 437 balls to save a game for his county was surely it. When he came to the crease, Hampshire were 260 runs behind Somerset with nine second innings wickets in hand and almost two days of cricket left to play.
The game seemed all but lost but Vince had other ideas. He demonstrated the class he is known for, as well as the kind of determination, concentration and patience that is not often associated with him. Not only was it the ultimate captain’s innings, it was also exactly what the England selectors had been crying out for him to produce.
So why did they leave him out of their Test squad? The simplest explanation is that they had someone ready and waiting to replace him at number three in the shape of Root.
Crucially, the same is not true for the position of opener. That is why Mark Stoneman has kept his place, despite only managing 115 runs in seven innings so far this season.
But perhaps England should have found a way to reshuffle their order so that Vince kept his place. His innings against Somerset certainly should have earnt him another chance, while nothing in Stoneman’s recent performances merits such leniency.
Could Dom Bess be the long-term answer to England’s spin conundrum?
Dominic Bess is the ultimate wild card pick. The 20-year-old has only played 23 senior games for his county, yet he suddenly finds himself in the England squad. He takes the place of the unfortunate Jack Leach, who broke his thumb in training.
Bess’ record for Somerset is good so far but nobody knows how he will perform on the big stage because he simply has not played enough cricket for his output to be predictable.
All this means it is too early to pick him in an international squad. However, given the lack of viable options available to him, would anybody else in new Head Selector Smith’s position have made a different decision?
Leach is injured, Moeen Ali is horribly out of form, Surrey’s Amar Virdi is equally inexperienced and there are no other spinners making enough of an impression to be considered for England.
So if this raw and unproven young spinner performs well and looks capable of handling the pressure, there is every chance it could prove to be the beginning of a long and successful international career for him.
The First Test between England and Pakistan begins at 11am at Lords on Thursday 24th May.
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