So, how bold will they be? What statement will England’s new-look interim selection panel send out when they name their squad for the first Test against New Zealand on Wednesday?
Are England really going to try to blast their way out of the basement of the Test world as we all buckle up and enjoy the ride, as Rob Key suggests we should? Will there be a return to Joe Root’s all too brief ‘total cricket’ policy that, for a while, looked as if it would herald an aggressive new dawn for English Test cricket?
There certainly should be more substance this time to the style that briefly flickered in England before they were undermined by the ECB’s neglect of the red-ball game, the demands of the pandemic and the struggles of the Root-Chris Silverwood partnership.
Brendon McCullum (L) and Ben Stokes (R) will look to stamp their marks on the team early on
With Key, Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum in charge and Matthew Mott set to be confirmed today alongside Eoin Morgan leading the all-powerful white-ball sides, England will rarely take a backward step from now on.
And, with Stokes determined to surround himself with selfless cricketers and McCullum keen to introduce the ‘no d***head policy’ that has worked for New Zealand rugby and cricket, it will be fascinating to see which players fall by the wayside.
With England’s bowling department extremely depleted, it is likely that Matthew Potts gets called up to the squad for the first time
For now a panel of Key, McCullum, Stokes, performance director Mo Bobat and chief scout James Taylor are unlikely to be too radical. At least until McCullum has his feet under the table and has seen his new charges up close.
So Alex Lees will probably get another chance at Lord’s on June 2 to prove he can be more than a limited option at the top of the order. And Jack Leach may retain the spin place ahead of the more attacking but still untried Matt Parkinson. But that is likely to be where any hint of conservatism begins and ends.
England plan to name an extended squad, possibly as large as 17, and insist Dan Lawrence and Ollie Robinson prove their fitness this week for Essex and Sussex respectively if they are to survive the final cut.
There will be newcomers, most notably Durham’s Matthew Potts and possibly Surrey’s Jamie Overton, with so many fast bowlers unfit. Look out for the prolific Harry Brook, too, and maybe a recall for Middlesex opener Sam Robson.
Harry Brook, of Yorkshire, is said to be of interest to the England selection panel for the series
But the biggest absentee could be Jonny Bairstow, despite his two Test centuries this winter against Australia and the West Indies. He has been on the road for months and there appears no appetite to rush him back from the IPL.
England may say Bairstow is being ‘rested’ but his future Test chances could depend on how Ben Foakes, disappointing by his own high standards in the Caribbean, fares against New Zealand.
As, too, might the intriguing possibility of a recall for Jos Buttler, a big favourite of Key and a cricketer very much in the Stokes-McCullum mould.
Ben Foakes (R) could secure his long-term England future with a strong series against tourists
No talk of the Hundred as Harrison departs
For all the list of ‘achievements’ in the ECB statement signalling the overdue departure as chief executive of ‘Teflon’ Tom Harrison, there was one glaring omission. There was no mention of the Hundred. Funny, that.
Yes, Harrison may have brought in big TV deals and steered cricket through the pandemic but it will be the insistence on introducing an unnecessary new format, at the expense of Test cricket, and squandering the bulk of the ECB’s considerable reserves on it that will be Harrison’s legacy.
Not to mention his shameful decision to pocket his share of a £2.1million bonus for delivering the Hundred at a time of ECB redundancies despite a passionate and persuasive argument for him to forgo it by our own Lawrence Booth in this year’s Wisden Almanack.
Now comes the chance for the ECB to make another positive appointment. There are some good candidates — like West Indies’ Johnny Grave, Durham’s Tim Bostock and, if his personal situation allows, Sir Andrew Strauss. But one stands out. The ECB should go back to former Surrey chief executive Richard Gould and ask him to return to cricket from football and do what he did so successfully at the Oval.
Tom Harrison is stepping down as chief executive of the ECB after being in the role since 2014
Are dodgy balls the reason for run glut?
Pitches may have been fresh and the weather good but the biggest reason for the run-glut at the start of the Championship season that has seen 20 scores in excess of 500 already has been a batch of balls one England bowler told the World of Cricket have been like ‘bowling with a kwik cricket ball.’
He added: ‘There have been some real struggles with the balls. They are going out of shape very quickly. And they are soft. Every team are having the same issues.’
Perhaps no longer. Dukes have recognised the problem and have sent out a new batch to each county this week. It will be fascinating to see if they make a difference.
Dukes have recognised the problem and have sent out a fresh batch of balls to each county