Who will open with Cook? – Pain points facing England

On Thursday (July 26) at Lord’s, National Selector Ed Smith will name England’s squad for the first Test against India which begins next week. A drawn series against Pakistan earlier in the summer proved that England remain a work in progress at Test level and Smith, and his newly appointed England Selector James Taylor, have some tricky decisions to make.

Here are some of the issues which need to be addressed.

Who will open with Alastair Cook?

Mark Stoneman was picked for the first Test of the summer against Pakistan despite an average winter but he looked so woefully out of form that Keaton Jennings was recalled to the side for the second match in Leeds. Jennings made 29 and looked assured at the crease but given his issues last summer against South Africa which saw him dropped in favour of Stoneman, he still has plenty to prove. Rory Burns, who captained the Lions against India ‘A’ last week, scored his third Championship century for Surrey in the current round of matches and is pushing hard for a place but Smith is likely to keep faith with Jennings for Edgbaston. Should the Lancashire man falter, though, Burns will not be far away.

Who will England pick to bowl spin?

Given the hot weather, it’s not inconceivable that England could pick two spinners in the squad for Edgbaston. Somerset’s off-spinner Dom Bess played in the Pakistan series and was serviceable with both bat and ball although he was only playing because of an untimely injury to his county teammate Jack Leach. Leach made a decent Test debut in the second Test in New Zealand during the winter and would have played against Pakistan had he been fit. After 119 Championship wickets since the start of 2016, he deserves a recall to the side to resume his Test career but Bess could also be included if England opt for two spinners. Moeen Ali is also a candidate to be included but Adil Rashid, despite murmurs about his return following a fine limited overs summer, is highly unlikely to be picked having decided to give up on red-ball cricket this season.

Will James Anderson and Stuart Broad be fit?

Both of England’s veteran seamers have had their injury scares of late. Anderson has been nursing a wear and tear injury on his shoulder while Broad’s ankle has been causing him some grief. Both are playing in the current round of Championship matches for their counties and provided they get through these matches unscathed, they will quite obviously be selected. However, with five Tests crammed into six weeks, England may be keeping their fingers crossed that their two best quick men stay fit for the entire series.

Who will be the third seamer?

Nobody has yet nailed down the position of third seamer behind Anderson and Broad and given both of those stalwarts are nearing the end of their careers, that is a long-term worry. Chris Woakes is back fit after a thigh injury ruled him out of the entire limited overs portion of the summer and his fine record in England – 46 wickets at 23.76 – may get him the nod. Mark Wood played at Lord’s against Pakistan, bowled quickly at times and had a couple of catches dropped, but was then somewhat unfairly discarded for the next game. Wood’s extra pace and ability to reverse swing the ball could prove important if England’s heatwave continues and the pitches remain dry although he suffered an injury playing for Durham this week which could rule him out. Jake Ball could also come into contention after an excellent red-ball season for Nottinghamshire.

With a court case looming, is Ben Stokes up for selection?

Yes, Stokes is up for selection and captain Joe Root has confirmed that England will be selecting their strongest possible team for Edgbaston which means the all-rounder is certain to play. Stokes will, however, miss the second Test at Lord’s to attend a court case in relation to an alleged incident with two men outside a Bristol nightclub last September. He was ruled out of the winter’s Ashes tour as a result but returned to the England squad on the tour to New Zealand. He will play in Birmingham but England will then have to replace him for the second game which could mean that Surrey’s left-arm all-rounder Sam Curran, who made his Test debut against Pakistan at Headingley earlier this summer, gets another chance.

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