England have rolled the dice for the final Test against the West Indies, recalling Keaton Jennings in place of dropped wicketkeeper Ben Foakes and including injury doubt Ben Stokes in a 12-man squad.
Jennings was axed for last week’s ten-wicket defeat in Antigua but will return at the first time of asking, leaving Foakes in the cold and Jonny Bairstow to reclaim the gloves.
Foakes had been struggling with a bruised hand but was passed fit for the match.
Stokes has been suffering from a bruised right heel but trained with the team on the eve of the Test and will be assessed before a final decision is made on his involvement in the morning. If England decide not to risk the all-rounder, Sam Curran will keep his place, with paceman Mark Wood set to play regardless.
England’s selection over the course of the series has betrayed muddled thinking, with the U-turn on Jennings and the seemingly harsh treatment of Foakes merely the latest example.
Stuart Broad was bafflingly left out of the opener in Bridgetown, a pitch seemingly made for his style of bowling, Joe Denly was installed as an opener last week despite not having done the job at county level since 2015, Adil Rashid played the first Test and was then allowed to return home as surplus to requirements, while Chris Woakes has travelled without being fit for any of the three Tests and Wood was not even part of the initial touring party.
Foakes’ ousting is a particularly eye-catching decision. He scored a fine century in his maiden Test innings in Galle, having come into the side as an injury replacement for Bairstow, and finished as man of the series in the 3-0 whitewash against Sri Lanka.
He has been less guilty of poor strokeplay than most of the top seven since landing in the Caribbean and, with an average of 41.50 from his first ten innings, might wonder quite what he has done wrong.
The decision to go back to Jennings, pictured, who has had all of two net sessions since being removed for the second time in his England career, probably lies in his eagerness to bat at the top of the order.
Too many of England’s impressive strokeplayers are best suited to lower middle-order roles, artificially promoted by necessity rather than aptitude.
Bairstow, having regained the wicketkeeping role he treasures, has filled in there for the last three matches but will now drop back to six or seven. As for Stokes, England will need to balance their reliance on him as an all-action cricketer – able to bat in the top five, bowl quickly and tirelessly and field brilliantly – with a duty of care.
With a World Cup and an Ashes series still to come in 2019, pushing him to the limit in the last match of a surrendered series might not be the pragmatic solution.
“He’s an integral part of all three formats and has been for some time now. He gives you great balance across the board,” said captain Joe Root.
“As we’ve seen in the recent past when he’s not been around it can make a huge difference. Of course we want Ben fit and firing and ready to go as many times as possible. But it’s so important he is able to do his job properly.”
Root suggested the 77 overs Stokes has sent down in the first two Tests were the reason for his current predicament but did not dismiss suggestions he had stood on a rock during a fitness session on the beach. “Whether it was before that or during that I’m not really sure to be honest,” said Root.
“It’s down to a huge amount of workload over the first two Tests. He woke up sore with his heel.”