Ahead of the announcement of England’s squad for their upcoming Test series against Sri Lanka and after a successful first summer for new national selector Ed Smith, former England captain and Sky Sports pundit Nasser Hussain has said “the real test is now” as England aim to change their poor away form.
“Ed Smith and his selection panel have been excellent this summer for the most part,” Hussain said in a column for Sky Sports. “They’ve made some brave, bold choices and I’ve enjoyed the way they’ve gone about their work. But the real test is now.”
Hussain identified three main issues for Smith and co. to solve, and put forward his preferred solutions.
“The biggest issues are the opening positions, the quality of spin and the back-up bowling for James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Where are England going to get pace from?”
For the opening slot, he designated Surrey’s Rory Burns, the Championship’s leading run-scorer this season, and James Vince, who was dropped after a disappointing tour of Australia and New Zealand, something which the stats suggest could be down to luck. He suggested Kent’s Joe Denly should be the back-up opener, leaving no room in the squad for current incumbent Keaton Jennings.
“I would have liked to take Keaton Jennings, who is a good player of spin, but he’s been given a lot of chances and hasn’t done enough to warrant selection. His two dismissals at The Oval showed me a batsman with a scrambled brain,” he said.
“You cannot fault what Rory Burns has done in county cricket, scoring runs year after year, and I’d open with him and James Vince ahead of Joe Denly.”
As for the spin conundrum, Hussain suggested off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali was the first choice, with it being a close call between Somerset left-armer Jack Leach and leg-spinner Adil Rashid for the other spot.
“It’s going to spin big so Moeen Ali slots straight into my side after his stellar finish to the summer,” he said. I’d also take Adil Rashid but I’d probably play Jack Leach, simply because control will be crucial.”
“I wouldn’t have a problem if the selectors went with Rashid and Ali, but I’d like to see Leach drive it in ball-after-ball and spinning it off a length to build pressure – just as he has done at Taunton.”
In the pace bowling department, Hussain posited that Stuart Broad, James Anderson, and Chris Woakes were too similar to all make the plane, suggesting the latter should be left out in place of someone with “X-factor”, citing Olly Stone, who received a maiden ODI call-up yesterday, and one other.
“If it’s X-factor you’re after then I would take Olly Stone, who has pace and the right skiddy trajectory; he targets the stumps a lot and is capable of reversing it,” he said. “I’d also take Jamie Overton for more pace but if you take those two, you have to leave one of Woakes, Anderson and Broad out.”
Hussain did offer hope to Woakes, saying any exclusion shouldn’t be permanent. “All three of them [Broad, Anderson, Woakes] are international cricketers and all three of them would start every single Test in England, including the Ashes next summer,” he said.
“You have to remember that there is a World Cup in England next summer and Woakes is an integral part of England’s one-day side; it may be worth letting him focus in on white-ball cricket for a little while. But let me be clear, I’d still have him in my side for the first Ashes Test.
Nasser’s squad: Burns, Vince, Ali, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Pope, S Curran, Rashid, Leach, Anderson, Broad, Stone, Overton, Denly
Nasser’s first Test XI: Burns, Vince, Ali, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, S Curran, Leach, Stone, Anderson