This Thursday England embark on a summer of Test cricket which they should dominate. The visitors, firstly Sri Lanka, followed by Pakistan, are refreshing their squads, suffering a lack of long form cricket and as ever, a lack of finances.
Home advantage and a core of senior players, Stuart Broad and James Anderson with the ball and Alastair Cook and Joe Root with the bat, should give England enough advantage, but what is more interesting is the jockeying for position for the other places.
Already the selectors have made changes. The highly-talented James Vince comes in as a direct swap for the unfortunate and very ill James Taylor and Jake Ball is the next seamer to be tried. Both are worthy inclusions and could, indeed should, have long and fruitful international careers.
But is Alex Hales really a Test opener? His looseness just outside off-stump is a delight for opposition bowlers and maybe he would be better served batting at five. There the older ball and less bounce would be less of a threat and his destructive shot-making could take the game away from tiring opponents. Consider in 12 months’ time a middle order of Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. That has firepower and all it needs is a solid top four to terrify the most powerful of bowling line-ups. Cook and Root are world class players and nowhere near retirement so the job for the selectors is to find two or three other top order players. Is Nick Compton really the future? He deserved his chancesbut he is too stilted and too slow for this young, aggressive England side. Occupying the crease is an excellent plan, but runs also need to be scored.Compton crawls along, putting pressure on his partner.
Sam Robson has started the season superbly for Middlesex and is unlucky to be ignored as is Tom Westley of Essex. Adam Lees of Yorkshire is another who is highly regarded.
This summer is the perfect opportunity to find new players that have the technique, attitude and aptitude to see England through the next five years. Compton at 33 is not the answer.
Trevor Bayliss, the coach, prefers energy and intent at the crease, particularly in the top order. It can come through shot-making or hard running between the wickets. Find them, bed them in and let the middle order destroy and England have a heck of an exciting generation of cricketers.
The selection of Ball is deserved as he has impressed for Nottinghamshire and the Lions in the winter. He is tall, can move the ball and has enough pace. The need for new seamers is obvious considering Anderson and Broad are 34 and 30 respectively this summer, Mark Wood is injured again and Steven Finn is enduring one of his spells of disjointed rhythm. The spin bowling stocks are Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. This is reasonable rather than good but unless England suffers a sequence of scorching summers the emergence of any outstanding spinner is likely to be an outlier.
England are in a decent place though, and Sri Lanka starting at Headingley should be suitable cannon fodder. They are very young and against Essex last week looked lacklustre at best and woeful at worst. and with the second Test at cold, windy Durham this series could be won very quickly.
The harder challenge will come when Pakistan arrive later in the summer. By then some players will have staked a claim and others fallen by the wayside. It is a summer of discovery for England as they try to find the final pieces of a squad to take on the world’s best over the next three years. The vibrancy and vigour they played with in the World T20 is needed in all their cricket. If they can do that they could prove to be the finest England team of modern times.