@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
The first Test of the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes era will begin with plenty of questions hanging over whichever England XI is chosen.
England won just one of their last 17 Tests under Joe Root’s captaincy, with a much-changed squad from their 4-0 Ashes hammering in Australia seeing no change in fortunes, West Indies triumphing 1-0 in the Caribbean.
There are, at most, three players – Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow – from that tour guaranteed their spot for the first Test against New Zealand, and with England suffering an injury crisis among their seamers and their batters struggling for runs, there is room for a proper bolter to earn selection from nowhere. We’ve considered only players who didn’t tour with England in any capacity last winter, in any format or for the Lions, as having ‘bolter’ potential, so while uncapped players Josh Bohannon, Harry Brook and Matt Parkinson could all be in contention, none are true bolters, all of them having toured with England or the Lions last winter.
Stats in bold refer to 2022 County Championship season
Matty Potts – Durham
35 wickets at 18.57, 4 5WIs, BBI: 7-40
By a distance the leading wicket-taker in the County Championship, Matty Potts combines sharp – if not quite express – pace with an ability to extract life from the deadest of surfaces, marking him out as a Test bowler in waiting. Having broken into the Durham XI as a lanky swing bowler, he has packed on the muscle required to be a hit-the-deck exponent. According to The Guardian, he is in the frame as England attempt to combat a shortage of fit seam-bowling options.
Jamie Overton – Surrey
16 wickets at 22.75, 1 5WI, BBI: 5-54
For a time, Jamie Overton was rated as the more exciting of the twin Somerset seamers, possessing more pace than brother Craig. It’s the latter who has put up more impressive career numbers and earned a semi-regular place in England’s Test side, but a strong start to the season for Jamie for Surrey has seen him come back into the conversation. According to The Times, Ben Compton, the County Championship’s most in-form opener, reckoned Overton was “10mph faster off the pitch than anyone he had faced this season”.
Sam Robson – Middlesex
318 runs at 63.60, 2 100s, HS: 149
Given that all seven of Sam Robson’s Tests so far came in 2014, he could be forgiven for thinking that his chance had come and gone. However, solid returns since then, and an excellent start to the 2022 season, have boosted his claims. Robson averages 38.55 in the County Championship since the start of 2015, with two stellar recent hundreds catching the eye: his brisk 149 set up a successful chase of 370 against Sussex, while against a Notts attack featuring Stuart Broad and James Pattinson he rescued Middlesex from 0-2 and 32-3.
Ben Duckett – Notts
496 runs at 62.00, 1 100, 4 50s, HS: 122
Ben Duckett is another who fits into the Robson bracket of having been tried a long time ago, and churned out runs at a consistent if not extraordinary rate since then. Since his Test chance, Duckett averages 38.94 in first-class cricket, and would bring an impetus to England’s top order that Stokes and McCullum would value.
Ben Compton – Kent
670 runs at 95.71, 3 100s, 3 50s, HS: 129
It’s unlikely that Ben Compton will feature in England’s Test plans just yet, but if McCullum and Stokes were picking the Test XI purely based off the opening six rounds of the County Championship, he would be a shoo-in. Before 2022, the grandson of Denis had a high score of 20 in five first-class games, and, at the age of 28, churning out runs in second-team cricket with scant reward seemed to be his lot. But a stint in Zimbabwe has transformed his fortunes, and the left-hander has racked up five hundreds in 10 first-class games so far this year.