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Who should England pick for the first Test v Sri Lanka? Our writers have their say

by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

The line-ups that may or may not take the field for England’s first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle.

It’s arguably never been harder to pick an England XI. With their away record poor but their 16-man squad packed with talented all-rounders and a host of seam and spin-bowling options, you could throw them together pretty much any way and end up with a broadly plausible team.

Not that that’s what our writers have done. Taking into account the injury to Jonny Bairstow all but confirming he’s missing the first Test, here’s what their expert minds have come up with. Over to you, Joe and Trevor…

Jonny Bairstow injured his ankle whilst playing football in an England training session

Phil Walker

  1. Burns
  2. Jennings
  3. Moeen
  4. Root
  5. Stokes
  6. Buttler (wk)
  7. Pope
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Broad
  11. Anderson

I know I know, I should get Leach in there, and live a little with three spinners and just two-and-a-bit seamers – the bit being Stokes, who won’t be bowling much before the World Cup – but try as I might, I’m too taken with Curran and those things he does, in the context of a series that I think will be lowdown and dirty, with 290s playing 270s, and with every run that can be scavenged from these steaming pitches so critical to the final outcome. I’m going with Pope and Curran in the engine room to follow a run of crushing dreamboats from three to six, with Moeen the batsman given three Tests to enjoy himself in the slipstream of a couple of openers who’ll be grinding and scrapping for their lives and livelihoods, and with his suddenly cocky spin-pal Rashid, who’s never been in a better place technically or emotionally to give this Test stuff a proper good crack, holding the key to it all.

Listen to Phil and Yas debate England’s selection in the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast:

Ed Kemp

  1. Burns
  2. Jennings
  3. Denly
  4. Root
  5. Stokes
  6. Buttler (wk)
  7. Moeen
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Leach
  11. Anderson

I desperately want to get Stone in the team but I’m not willing to have him, Anderson and Leach in the same team batting-wise, so Curran gets the nod as an extra all-rounder to bat at No.8 (I also don’t want Broad as high as No.9, so he narrowly misses out too). With spin the main game in town, England basically need to get all three (five?) of their spinners in their XI whilst giving themselves the longest possible batting line-up. That’s what I’ve tried to do here. For all his promise, there are legitimate questions over Curran’s potential efficacy with the ball in these conditions, but he’ll likely get a chance to answer them. Then it’s just down to Denly or Pope – I’ve gone for the Kent man not only for his leg-spin, but because he can bat three and England are crying out for one, and I’d rather keep Moeen in the middle order.

Should Jack Leach be selected ahead of a seamer?

Rich Evans

  1. Jennings
  2. Burns
  3. Moeen
  4. Root
  5. Stokes
  6. Pope
  7. Buttler (wk)
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Leach
  11. Anderson

It would be a brave call – and one that probably won’t happen – but Broad should sit this one out. With the talented Leach a certainty for my side, it boils down to two from Curran, Rashid and Broad, and I’m perturbed by a Broad-Leach-Anderson tail in what could be a low-scoring affair. While an Anderson-Curran-Stokes pace trio looks lightweight – there’s no doubt that Broad offers greater control than the all-rounders – Curran’s form and feel-good factor, plus the opportunity to field three distinctive spinners (offy, leggy, lefty), outweigh the negatives. Moeen deserves a decent stint at first drop, but Jennings is on his final doggy’s life. Let pup Pope settle at six, where he’s done the biz for Surrey, allowing Stokes to enter the top five. Buttler’s your game-changing No.7 – resist bumping him up to six, especially when he has the gloves.

Is Stuart Broad in the firing line? 

Ben Gardner

  1. Burns
  2. Moeen
  3. Stokes
  4. Root
  5. Pope
  6. Buttler
  7. Foakes (wk)
  8. Curran
  9. Rashid
  10. Leach
  11. Anderson

While England’s issue is their top-order batting, the tricky thing really is fitting in all the all-rounders who might just win them a Test match by themselves. So Moeen opens, and don’t be surprised if he blocks the hell out of it – an average of 55 at No.3 for Worcestershire shows he can do wily as well as willowy. Stokes, with the best technique of anyone bar Root, bats at three and bowls only if England are desperate, aping Kallis rather than Botham. Pope averages more against spin than pace in first-class cricket and is England’s next great batsman. Foakes has a winter playing for Colts CC in Sri Lanka under his belt and is England’s best keeper, crucial when you’ve got three spinners and it rags, and almost never fails with the bat, an even more important trait in what’s sure to be a low-scoring series. And Curran gets in ahead of the other seamers because he swings it a bit more, bowls with his left arm, and has stones the size of Northampton.

Could Ben Foakes make his Test debut?

Yas Rana

  1. Burns
  2. Jennings
  3. Moeen
  4. Root
  5. Stokes
  6. Pope
  7. Buttler (wk)
  8. Rashid
  9. Broad
  10. Leach
  11. Anderson

Ollie Pope made 28 on debut in the second Test against India earlier in the summer

Regardless of whether you think England should play two or three spinners, Jack Leach has to play. He’s been the premier spinner in county cricket over the past three years and, most importantly, has experience of bowling on pitches that are particularly conducive to spin bowling. For me, he should be ahead of Adil Rashid when it’s expected that the spinners do the brunt of the work in hot, humid conditions. Pope is also in my team ahead of Denly purely because of the mountain of runs he scored in Division One this season. He’s a frighteningly talented prospect and he should be given time to adjust to the rigours of Test cricket.

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