With England set to announce their squad for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand on Wednesday, here’s a look at the questions the hierarchy will need to answer with their picks.
Who makes up the top order?
Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, the incumbents at the top of the order, have had contrasting starts to the summer. The former is averaging 98 in the County Championship, having hit two hundreds and two half-centuries in seven innings for Durham. Crawley, on the other hand, has had little joy for Kent in Division One – his 156 runs this season have come at 19.5. Yet it would still be a surprise to not see Crawley walk out to bat at Lord’s in June. He has a Test hundred in the Caribbean to fall back on and may well be a candidate as Ben Stokes’ new vice-captain.
Where there will be change for England is at No.3 after Stokes announced the decision to move Joe Root back to No.4. Those who have made strong cases in county cricket include Josh Bohannon and Dawid Malan. Ollie Pope has previously been touted as a potential No.3 and he has continued his domination at domestic level this year, hitting 417 runs at an average of 69.50.
Who bats at No.5?
With Root at No.4 and Stokes at No.6, who will be the man at No.5? After hitting two centuries in the winter, Jonny Bairstow looks set to continue his Test career this summer. But he’s currently playing for Punjab Kings in the IPL, which prompts questions over his availability for the first Test. Nevertheless, new head coach Brendon McCullum may not have an issue with a late arrival and a lack of red-ball prep; he played in the IPL just five days before leading New Zealand out at Lord’s in 2015.
Dan Lawrence, who was also part of England’s middle order against the West Indies in March, has had his preparations disrupted by a hamstring injury suffered last month while fielding against Warwickshire, placing his position in doubt. Other options here could be Pope and Harry Brook, who is in scintillating form. The Yorkshireman is the leading run-scorer in Division One having passed fifty in seven of his eight innings this summer.
Who takes the gloves?
Despite a difficult series in the Caribbean, his first Tests since last year’s tour of India, Ben Foakes has had an excellent start to the season with Surrey, hitting 395 runs at an average of 98.75. Other contenders are Bairstow and Jos Buttler, who Foakes replaced in the Caribbean, but their presence at the IPL complicates things. Foakes looks to be the leading candidate at this moment in time.
Will new names join the fast-bowling group?
Saqib Mahmood and Matthew Fisher have joined a long list of injured quicks after suffering back stress fractures. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are set to return to the set-up, but who will join them? England may have to turn to some new names for the New Zealand series, and Durham’s Matty Potts could be a name to keep an eye on. The right-armer is the leading wicket-taker in this year’s County Championship with 35 wickets at 18.57 and helped his side to victory over Glamorgan last week with 11 wickets in the match. Jamie Overton has also impressed in Surrey’s excellent start to the season and would inject some 90mph pace into a squad that is unable to call upon the services of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone. Sam Cook – a relentless wicket-taker for Essex in recent years – is another possible inclusion in what is expected to be a larger squad than is normally selected for a home Test.
Which spinner gets the call?
After a quiet start to the summer, Jack Leach found both turn and timing last week to take eight wickets in Somerset’s win over Gloucestershire. Having played in all three Tests in the Caribbean, he is the man in possession. If he does play in the first Test, though, it will be his first in England since 2019; a frontline spinner was deemed unnecessary when New Zealand visited last year. Leach’s most likely challenger for a place in the squad is Matt Parkinson, who is currently the second highest wicket-taker in Division One.