English cricket could be witnessing a changing of the guard with Stuart Broad set to miss out on a place in the first Test against West Indies.
Broad, a veteran of 138 Tests and taker of 485 Test wickets, has not missed a home Test since 2012, a run of 51 matches in succession. The last time he missed one – the Edgbaston Test against West Indies – he was rested with the series already won.
But England, and their stand-in captain Ben Stokes, are thought likely instead to opt for the pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood with James Anderson back with the new ball after suffering injury in South Africa. Chris Woakes is the other player set to be left out from their 13-man squad.
England had originally planned to name their Test team on Tuesday evening. But although it is understood the players have been notified of the final XI, the team management reasoned that, with poor weather around and the possibility a bowler could sustain an injury in the lead-up to the match, there was no need to commit to anything at this stage.
If Broad is, indeed, left out, there may be a temptation to write his career obituary, but that would be premature. England are set to play six Tests in little more than seven weeks and some rotation of the seam attack is inevitable. There is a decent chance he could return as soon as next week for the second Test at Emirates Old Trafford. He could still become just the fourth seamer to claim 500 Test wickets.
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He has been left out before, too. At the end of 2018, he played only one of the Tests on England’s tour of Sri Lanka while he was also omitted from the side for the first Test of the series in the Caribbean 18 months ago. He demonstrated his undimmed enthusiasm for the challenge, though, by tinkering with his technique – in particular, he shortened his run-up and bowled a fuller, more probing line and length – and enjoyed personally successful series against Australia (in which he claimed 23 wickets at a cost of 26.65 apiece) and South Africa (in which he claimed 14 at 19.42). It would probably pay not to write him off now.
But this is another sign that England are looking to the future. And while Broad might have struggled to retain his status as a first-choice bowler in overseas conditions, this is the first time in the best part of a decade that he has not been considered among the first-choice attack in England.
“I’ve been dreading it for the last two or three days, telling the unfortunate guys. It’s not a nice conversation to think about” Ben Stokes
It is, perhaps, also an indication that the England management are looking to Wood and Archer, in particular, as the nucleus of the attack that they feel can help them win the Ashes in Australia in around 18 months’ time. Both are blessed with sharp pace and would appear well-suited to the hard wickets anticipated in Australia. Wood also claimed a nine-for in his most recent Test – against South Africa – and took his maiden Test five-for the last time England and West Indies met. Wednesday’s first Test will be their first in the same XI.
It might also be relevant that, for the first time in many months, England are blessed with a surfeit of fit, fast bowlers. By the end of the South Africa tour, England were without Anderson and Archer due to injury. Perhaps, had all been available, this decision may have come earlier.
Stokes admitted on Tuesday that having five seamers fit and ready to go had presented him with “an absolute nightmare”, and said he would be “dreading” delivering the bad news to the two players that missed out.
“You can only pick so many but it’s a great place to be,” Stokes said. “To have so many to pick from is great as a team, I’d rather be in this position. With the amount of cricket we’ve got coming in the next seven weeks I think all the guys will get opportunities. That’s a hell of a workload especially taking into consideration the time we haven’t been on the field. You’ve got to realise there’s no cricket behind anybody.
“To play six Tests in seven weeks would be a huge ask for any bowler, but if we are going to rotate it’s not going to affect the standard. The guys we’ve got here are all unbelievable and they’ve all put a good case forward.
“I’ve been dreading it for the last two or three days, telling the unfortunate guys. It’s not a nice conversation to think about and I can’t wait to give Joe the armband back for that reason, but that is leadership. It’s great to tell guys they’re playing but with that comes the fact that you have to deliver the bad news. It’s never nice.”
Stokes also said that the prospect of Wood and Archer bowling together was “exciting”, adding that it would be difficult to leave Wood out given his “transformation” in the past two years.
“The transformation of Mark Wood, more from a mental side, has been phenomenal. He’s obviously had his troubles in the past with injuries. I’m so excited with where he’s at with everything – all the worries and troubles that he would have had two or three years ago about his body seem to have just disappeared.
“The skills that he possesses are very, very rare to have in a bowler. There’s been a lot of thought put into the team that we’re going to select.”
England also confirmed that Joe Denly will bat at No. 3, with Zak Crawley at No. 4 as widely expected.
Probable England XI for first Test: 1 Dom Sibley, 2 Rory Burns, 3 Joe Denly, 4 Zak Crawley, 5 Ben Stokes (captain), 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Jos Buttler, 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson
Source: ESPN Crickinfo