With the County Championship in full flow and the start of the Test summer just a little over a month away, we’ve taken a look at the men contending for a spot in England’s middle order.
New and former Test captains Ben Stokes and Joe Root are two positions nailed down, and Jonny Bairstow – who averaged 46.66 across five Tests in the winter – is likely to continue his red-ball return against New Zealand in June.
Dan Lawrence enjoyed some fine moments at No.4 against the West Indies in March, including a Test-best of 91 in his first innings at Bridgetown. But eight runs in the final Test left him short of making an unshakeable case for selection.
If there is just one spot up for grabs in that England middle order, most likely at No.4, who are the leading candidates?
Lawrence hasn’t had an ideal start to the summer. The Essex right-hander’s first three innings of the County Championship season saw a return of 24 runs, and he suffered a hamstring injury while fielding in his side’s clash with Warwickshire last week. Nonetheless, Essex have said they anticipate a “short recovery period” for the 24-year-old.
Ahead of the West Indies Tests, the No.4 spot seemed to be a two-way battle between Lawrence and Pope, who struggled in Australia, amassing four single-figure scores in six innings. The Surrey batter has enjoyed a solid start to his season: six knocks in the County Championship have resulted in 321 runs at 64.20.
Malan began brightly in the Ashes, with two 80-plus scores in the first two Tests. But he faded afterwards and was discarded for the West Indies tour. But batting at No.4 for Yorkshire, the left-hander has bounced back, hitting three half-centuries in his first four innings of the County Championship season, and a century in his fifth. He’s worked closely in the past with Gary Kirsten, who has been heavily linked with England’s vacant Test head coach role.
Vince, who last played Test cricket in 2018, was dominant against Kent last week, hitting 111 off 118 balls in an innings win. There’ve been half-centuries against Somerset and Surrey too, underlying a sense of consistency against the red ball that has been there for some time: Vince averages more than 40 in first-class cricket since his last stint in the Test side.
The rising star
White-ball excellence last summer resulted in a T20I debut for Brook over the winter, but he continues to impress as a red-ball batter too. He’s passed fifty in all five of his County Championship innings so far this summer and it may not be long before a Test debut too.
The No.3 options (if Joe Root moves down to No.4)
Bracey seems best suited to the top three, where he bats for Gloucestershire, rather than down the order, where he batted while taking up keeping duties on Test debut against New Zealand. After hitting a hundred against Australia A in the winter, the left-hander began this summer with hundreds against Northamptonshire and Yorkshire.
Bohannon, also part of the Lions set-up over the winter, celebrated his maiden first-class double century against Gloucestershire last week, finishing on 231 after spending more than nine hours at the crease. The 25-year-old’s first-class average was lifted to an impressive 47.5 after that innings. He batted at No.6 for the Lions in the winter, so a spot lower down isn’t out of the reckoning if Root stays at No.3.
The diminutive left-hander has been in fine touch for Nottinghamshire this season: he came within five runs of twin tons against Glamorgan and hit a 39-ball 50 against Worcestershire on Thursday. Four Test appearances in 2016 brought little success for Duckett, but he’s yet to play a Test at home. While he bats at No.3 for his county, he has Test experience at No.4 and could be a middle-order candidate too.