Leach or Parkinson, Curran or Woakes, Denly or Crawley: What will England’s First Test XI be?

By Lucas Ball (@LucasBall2211)

Sub-edited by Riley Taylor

Image credit: Airwolfhound via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

England will start their tour of Sri Lanka next week, aiming to secure a second consecutive Test series win away from home against The Lions.

Head coach, Chris Silverwood is likely to name two spinners in the England XI, with three spots then up for grabs for the pace bowlers in England’s attack.

Meanwhile, there are question marks over the top order. Keaton Jennings has returned to the squad due to an injury to Rory Burns, but there are doubts over the Lancashire opener’s ability to be a strong all-round Test batsman.

This is the XI that I believe England should pick for the First Test in Galle.

1 Dominic Sibley

Although Sibley has struggled in the warm-up games, he is only six Tests into his England career and – thus far – has an average of over 40 runs. His strike rate is low, but he is usually able to hold his wicket for a lengthy period, providing some crucial stability at the top of the order which England have lacked for years.

2 Keaton Jennings

Jenning’s struggles in Test cricket in England are well documented, though he is a strong player of spin and therefore suits the Sri Lankan conditions more so than those of a home series. This may well be his last chance to impress the selectors given England now seem to have a strong trio of capable opening batsmen in Burns, Sibley and Kent’s Zak Crawley, who recently signed a new deal with the Division One side.

Jennings will be keen to perform and his average of 49.75 against spinners since his England debut suggests that he may well be a good option in the subcontinent, given no England player has a better average against spin in that period.

3 Zak Crawley

The call at number three will likely be between two Kent teammates, in Crawley and Joe Denly. Denly has hung around in the Test side without showing he has enough quality to be the top number three batsman that England need, with no one having come to the fore in that role since Jonathan Trott

Crawley is 11 years younger than Denly and England should be planning for the long-term future, which Denly doesn’t look like to be a part of. He has impressed in the warm-up games and scored a century on day one of the latest Tour match, with England dominating the early proceedings.

4 Joe Root

This is, clearly, one of the easiest decisions for Silverwood and the selectors. Root remains England’s captain despite failing to regain the Ashes, though England’s recent series win in South Africa was impressive.

His captaincy appears to be improving, and he remains the key run-scorer for the England top order.

5 Ben Stokes

What more needs to be said? Undoubtedly the best cricketer globally in 2019, Stokes will look to continue to build on his impressive record. His aggressive approach will likely allow him to put the Sri Lankan attack under pressure, particularly the spin bowlers.

6 Ollie Pope

Pope’s return to the Test side following the Ashes was not at all a surprise, and he has impressed in that short period. Pope’s technique has been compared to that of former-England batsman Ian Bell, a stalwart in the England side for a number of years – with many tipping the Surrey batsman to have a similar career.

He averages just under 50 in his seven Tests, an impressive record for someone at just 22 years of age, with plenty of time to improve. It would be no surprise to see him move up the order in the coming years.

7 Ben Foakes

Jos Buttler averaged just 16.43 from seven innings on England’s tour of South Africa, an extremely poor record for a capable batsman. Buttler’s swashbuckling style is much more suited to the shorter formats, and there is certainly an argument that he should be allowed to focus on those formats with England.

Ben Foakes has averages of 41.50 and 38.01 in Test and first-class cricket respectively, suggesting he could add more runs lower down the order than Buttler. He remains a capable option behind the stumps, having taken 10 catches and two stumpings in his short England career.

8. Sam Curran

Curran adds more runs lower down the order than most, and his left-arm bowling provides a different option for the England attack. He needs to establish himself as a key component of the attack to ensure he is selected for as many Tests as possible, and that difference will be key for him as England lack quality left-arm pace bowlers.

9. Dominic Bess

A successful return to the side following Jack Leach’s injury has seen Bess re-ignite his international career. He has 11 wickets in four Tests at an average of 29.72 and could improve on that given the likely spin-favourable conditions in Sri Lanka.

His performances in the warm-up games have been good and he deserves to be England’s first-choice spinner on this tour.

10 Jack Leach

England’s options for their second spinner are Leach and Matt Parkinson. Parkinson – a leg spinner – has impressed in first-class cricket but is yet to make his Test debut.

Leach has only played 10 Tests but he is still more experienced than several others in this team, which could also prove pivotal over the course of a Test. His average of 29.02 from 34 wickets is also a good one, meaning he should get the nod.

11 Stuart Broad

When the conditions are good, he’s one of the best bowlers in world cricket. With England resting strike bowling partner James Anderson, Broad will have to carry the mantle, which to his credit he has done well since the Lancashire veteran’s calf injury in last year’s Ashes.

Again, his experience will be key for the team and he will ably assist the leadership group of Root and Stokes.

England XI: Sibley, Jennings, Crawley, Root, Stokes, Pope, Foakes, Curran, Bess, Leach, Broad

For more cricket, check out Riley Taylor’s cricket column, Cricket Weekly which will make its long awaited return this week.

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