Eng vs NZ 2021 – James Bracey, Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton
Strong competition among seamers for first Test but balancing XI could be an issue
England’s international summer of cricket is almost upon us and ECB selectors – that’s basically Chris Silverwood with some help from James Taylor and Mo Bobat – are poised to announce the men’s squad to face New Zealand in their two-Test series starting on June 2 at Lord’s. Here, George Dobell takes a look at those in the running.
England are likely to pick four men who are seen as contenders for the top three: Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Rory Burns and James Bracey. While Sibley is just coming back from a broken finger – he is playing a 2nd XI match at present – the England management are confident he will be fine and he has enough credit in the bank to retain his place.
Of the four, Burns is perhaps the least certain of a spot. Having been dropped in India, he is not “in possession” and with England wanting to take a look at Bracey, he could be squeezed. But he has been in consistent form in the Championship (only Kiran Carlson has reached 50 more often than his five occasions this season) and is seen as being relatively well equipped for the Ashes.
The form of Haseeb Hameed (and, to a lesser extent, Adam Lyth) has been noted by the England management, but he will need to sustain it a while longer to win a Test recall. If a Lions squad was required tomorrow, however, he would have an excellent chance of involvement.
With Joe Root and Ollie Pope assured of their places, England have to decide whether to play Bracey in the middle-order or stick with Dan Lawrence. Both will be in the squad.
With Jos Buttler resting, Ben Foakes looks likely to keep the gloves and play his first home Tests. Bracey is also a more than competent keeper and provides back-up if required. Pope’s brief career as a Test keeper – remember the Hamilton Test of 2019? – would appear to be over.
Jack Leach is now established as England’s first-choice spin bowler and is certain to be in the squad. With an even chance that he will not be required in the first Test, though – Middlesex have claimed one wicket with spin bowling at Lord’s this season, though Leach took four there in the first match of the season – it is likely Silverwood will feel that only one spinner is required. He is also keen to ensure fringe members of the squad play cricket rather than remain part of an enlarged squad.
If they do feel the need for a second spinner, Dom Bess (who has nine wickets at 42.66 this season) could be included, while Matt Parkinson (who has taken 19 wickets at 19.21 so far this season) is also a contender. But it is expected that Leach will be the only specialist spinner.
Given the reaction when Stuart Broad was left out of the first Test of last summer, it will be interesting to see how the England management approach this series. They have made it apparent, however, that they want to take a look at Craig Overton (32 wickets at 13.96 this season) and Ollie Robinson (29 at 14.72), so it may be that Broad and Anderson are rotated as they were in the winter and play in one Test apiece. Olly Stone is understood to have recovered from a toe infection and, with Jofra Archer absent through injury, is also likely to rotate with Mark Wood to give England a genuine fast bowler in each Test.
Injuries and the absence of the IPL players renders it tough to balance the side. It means all their viable all-round options (Ben Stokes, Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes) are unavailable and leaves them with the prospect of either batting Foakes at No. 6, and leaving a long tail but a five-man attack, or at No. 7 to allow six specialist batters and make do with four bowlers. The latter is the more likely scenario and would leave England with the option of either playing four seamers or three seamers and spinner. The four-seamer option again appears more likely.
The toughest decision might be over where to bat Bracey. While he generally bats in the top order for Gloucestershire, he could also bat at No. 5 or No. 6 or even do that and keep wicket. He is seen as an unusually versatile player by the England management and may well allow them to only name a 15-man squad.
Other options that might have been considered – picking Matt Critchley (averaging 51.20 with the bat and 36.18 with his legspin this season) as a spinning allrounder to bat at No. 6, for example – would appear to have been resisted.
Likely squad: Joe Root (capt), James Anderson, James Bracey, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Dom Sibley, Olly Stone, Mark Wood
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo