England head into this Test series as the overawing favourites, but they have been known to show complacency in the past. New selector Ed Smith has named his first squad for the opening Test between England and Pakistan, with Jos Buttler earning himself a recall after impressing in the IPL and Somerset spinner Dom Bess being called up for the first time.
Here is the full squad:
Joe Root (Yorkshire - Captain), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire - wicketkeeper), Dom Bess (Somerset), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Alastair Cook (Essex), Dawid Malan (Middlesex), Ben Stokes (Durham), Mark Stoneman (Surrey), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham).
There are a few surprises, as many had expected that Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan may be dropped. They, in fact, retain their places, whilst James Vince is dropped - even after he scored a double century on Monday. Moeen Ali has also been dropped after poor red ball form of late, whilst there are questions over Buttler's inclusion due to his lack of longer form game time in recent months.
Without further ado, let's take a look at whether these players should have been included and who could replace them later in the series, potentially
There were never any doubts over the inclusions of Joe Root, Jimmy Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Ben Stokes & Chris Woakes, really. Bairstow has nailed down the wicket keeping spot and made it his own, whilst Stokes is one of a few good all rounders available to England. With this being a home series, Stuart Broad may prove more useful than in Australia and many away matches, acting as more of an asset against Pakistan - who have today beaten Ireland in their Test match by five wickets. Mark Wood's recent good form and extreme pace meant he was almost a sure-fire for inclusion too.
In the three First Class games that he played in 2016, Bess took 13 wickets and contributed valuable runs. In 2017, he carried on with his impressive run of form and in the nine Championship games he played in he scored 198 runs which included his maiden 50 and captured 36 wickets at 23.42 runs each.
This impressive form has led to his inclusion ahead of the more experienced Moeen Ali and Jack Leach, although the latter was ruled out of the first Test due to a broken thumb. In his last ten matches for England and RCB (7 for England), the off-spinner has taken just twelve wickets and has a high score of 28. His exclusion from the side is more than justified, with many hoping he can come back into the fold - although his form needs a drastic turnaround. Bess, however, has the eleventh best average in the County Championship this season for any bowler with over one hundred overs. The twenty-year-old also hit 92 in his last match for Surrey, against Hampshire. It isn't just his impressive form with the ball that will have impressed Smith, but also his ability to add runs lower down the order, a problem that England have often have struggles with.
A controversial one, to say the least. Although averaging 77.8 in his last five games opening for the Royals (scoring at least 51 in each), many have voiced concerns over the fact that Buttler has no recent Test matches under his belt. His last Test appearance came back in December 2016, in Chennai against India, around eighteen months ago. The wicketkeeper-batsman may have scored England's three fastest ODI centuries, but does he have what it takes to score highly again in the five-day game? He scored just eleven in his last two Test innings, so there are understandable question marks surrounding his future.
Ben Foakes is a player who may well be aggrieved at not making the squad. Surrey believes they have a player who is still an excellent natural behind the stumps but also has the proficiency now required of wicketkeepers at the crease. It is, in many ways, surprising that he has not been included in an England eleven already, but Jonny Bairstow's form has made him irreplaceable. Foakes has more recent First Class games than Buttler too, playing in the County Championship for his county even this week, scoring eighteen with three catches.
England's middle order struggles are not over. Malan, for me, has shown time and time again that in the long term, he is not a good enough option for this side. So, why persist? His form with the bat is too inconsistent, with recent games varying from ducks to centuries all too often. A Test average of 30.95 is not awful, but surely England can do better. He also boasts zero wickets in the longer form from 156 deliveries, something that may disappoint the auxiliary bowler.
Hampshire middle order batsman Sam Northeast has strangely remained out of the running for a spot in the England set-up, something he describes as his dream. Northeast has an average of 83.56 in Division One this season, according to ESPNCricInfo - from 22 innings, an impressive season for anyone. So, why hasn't he been mentioned more? Following his move from Kent, the middle order batsman continued to impress and should be in the squad ahead of Malan.
Stoneman is an interesting headache for the England selection team. His recent form has not been brilliant as he has failed to hit thirty runs in any of his last seven innings for Surrey. His last half-century came in England's last Test series against New Zealand, back in March. He hasn't solved England's problems at the top of the order, even though he was one of the more consistent performers Down Under. Until Trevor Bayliss' side solve their opening issues, they will struggle to get back towards the top of the rankings, which has to be their goal.
Rory Burns may well have been a much better option. His amazing consistency, as well as an average of 42.51 in 167 First Class innings are impressive, and make him a much better option than Stoneman, whose footwork and technique let him down all too often. In his third most recent innings, Burns also scored 193 and should certainly be one who is mentioned more and more in coming times. At 27 too, time is more than on his side to force his way into the thoughts of the selectors.
Predicted England XI
- Alastair Cook
- Mark Stoneman
- Jonny Bairstow (wk)
- Joe Root (c)
- Dawid Malan
- Jos Buttler
- Ben Stokes
- Stuart Broad
- Dom Bess
- Mark Wood
- James Anderson
How would you select an England XI from the squad picked by Ed Smith? Let us know in the comments below.