Keaton Jennings’ debut heroics in India have earned him the right to keep his test spot, whilst Gary Ballance’s incredible domestic form has ensured he gets a recall. For the bowler’s it’s a chance for the so far uncapped Toby Roland Jones to get his first game whilst Mark Wood returns following injury problems and there’s a surprise call up for Liam Dawson.
We were promised a surprising squad for the first test, and whilst it’s hardly an unrecognisable squad, it’s still raised a few eyebrows. At first the squad appears to a batsman light, with it being assumed that England will have to enter the first test either with five pace bowlers or two spinners. However, with the bowling unit’s increasing injury worries it may be a sensible move to reduce their workload with another option.
The top order looks set for very little change. 167 runs at an average of 41.75, including that debut century in Mumbai last winter, have been deemed enough for the selectors to keep him in the squad, despite a lean start to the County Championship. The Durham opener has scored 399 runs at an average of 36.27, well down on his remarkable 2016 form that earned him his first test call up. His chances were aided by the struggles of Lancashire opener Haseeb Hameed. Hameed was touted as being Jennings’ strongest challenger for the opener spot, with some suggesting that Jennings could bat at number three whilst Hameed opened with Alastair Cook. High scores have so far evaded the 20-year-old as he even lost out on a Lions spot to Mark Stoneman. The former Durham and now Surrey opener must be near giving up hope on an England spot. The 30-year-old has passed the 1000 run mark for four successive seasons and with yet another strong campaign well underway for Surrey he must have assumed that his form, combined with others lack thereof and a strong Lions performance that he was a certainty for selection. It wasn’t to be however, and it looks to be a frustrating summer for the opener.
As Joe Root is likely to be spending the start of this Test series getting to grips with his new captaincy role, it’s looking like he will drop to number four in the batting order. Not only is it his most comfortable position but takes him out of the firing line somewhat as the expectations are somewhat lower than those of a number three batsman. This gap at number three is more than likely going to be filled with fellow Yorkshireman, Gary Ballance. When Ballance first came into the test fold he looked to be an absolute gem for England’s middle order, series averages of 67 and 71.85 against Sri Lanka and India respectively ensured he was touted as a future stalwart of the England side. However, his back-foot technique was exposed and disastrous performances against Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and then eventually a horrendous tour of Bangladesh culminated in him being dropped from the side. But having been given some time away from the spotlight to develop his game in the county set up, he looks rejuvenated and back to being the batsman he was when he began his test career.
The biggest surprise was the call up for Liam Dawson. Whilst there’s no doubting that the spinning all-rounder is an extremely good player, there had been little to suggest he was in line for a test recall. Although he did impress with the bat during his one test outing in Mumbai last winter, it looked like his red ball talents had been overlooked by the England management in favour of his effectiveness in limited overs cricket. The early retirement of Zafar Ansari certainly boosted his chances but even then it looked as if England were looking for a leg spinner to complement Moeen Ali’s off spin with Adil Rashid and even Mason Crane touted as possible candidates. Liam Dawson has been given his chance though and it remains to be seen whether or not he will be able to make the position his own, although it is all dependent on whether or not England will choose to go with two spinners or if Toby Roland-Jones is given his test debut in a five man pace attack. The Middlesex seamer is the only uncapped player in the squad and looks to be finally getting his reward for consistent domestic form and with injuries becoming regular features in Anderson and Broad’s careers he could find himself playing an increasingly important role in this test side.
Full Squad to face South Africa at Lords:
Joe Root (Yorkshire) – Captain
Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)
James Anderson (Lancashire)
Jonathan Bairstow (Yorkshire)
Gary Ballance (Yorkshire)
Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire)
Alastair Cook (Essex)
Liam Dawson (Hampshire)
Keaton Jennings (Durham)
Toby Roland-Jones (Middlesex)
Ben Stokes (Durham)
Mark Wood (Durham)