Sri Lanka in England 2016 May 12, 2016

England selectors take calm view to batting questions

Just as you wouldn't expect to hear an hour of Belgian jazz if you went to see Kylie Minogue in concert, so you probably shouldn't be surprised by the lack of surprises in an England squad.

Continuity of selection has been a significant policy in recent years. And, while there are times that might appear to frustrate progress, it is almost certainly a price worth paying. Nobody wants to return to the bad old days when England picked 29 men in a series (the Ashes of 1989) or the sense of uncertainty and selfishness that fostered in the dressing room.

Both the changes to the England squad for the first Investec Test are, to a point, enforced. James Vince comes in for the unfortunate James Taylor and Jake Ball takes the opportunity offered by injury to Mark Wood. Ball has, though, nudged in front of Chris Woakes, who is paying the price for a poor Test at the end of the tour of South Africa, when he stood in for the injured Steven Finn.

The bowling attack pretty much picked itself. Steven Finn will, barring injury, almost certainly fill the spot of third seamer behind Stuart Broad and James Anderson and Moeen Ali provides the spin option. Perhaps, later in the summer, the likes of Adil Rashid and Simon Kerrigan might squeeze Moeen but the combination of his batting ability and calm temperament provide an edge at this stage. He is generally regarded as the best available offspinner now, too, though his batting has regressed a little.

Ball has bowled beautifully this season. He maintains an immaculate length and has the skill to move the ball either way which should stand him in good stead even on Test surfaces. He is not the quickest, by any means, and looks a Test No. 11 with the bat but if he wins an opportunity on the sort of pitches we saw in Tests at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge last year, he will flourish.

The batting was more problematic. Neither Nick Compton or Alex Hales made a definitive case for themselves in South Africa and Sam Robson, in particular, must have pushed them hard. Perhaps, had Ian Bell had no fitness concerns and had Gary Ballance looked in better form, things may have been different. The door is not shut on any of them.

Speculation ahead of the announcement suggested that Hales' position was more secure than Compton's. This was puzzling as Compton performed significantly better in South Africa (he averaged 30.62 to Hales' 17.00), though the series did finish with Compton playing horribly at Centurion when his fear of losing the place he values so highly became palpable.

Perhaps nothing demonstrated the value of continuity of selection more? Players who feel secure of their position are able to relax and focus on their game without the distraction of unnecessary insecurities. Compton and Hales now have a chance - three more Tests, probably - to show what they can do.

Nick Compton has had a slow start to the season but is likely to get the three Tests against Sri Lanka © Getty Images

Compton's issue may well, these days, be less that others can't accept him as much as it is he seems to struggle to accept himself. He is, at his best, an old-fashioned Test batsman with a solid defence and fine powers of concentration. Throw in an elegant drive, an effective cut and a decent pull and you have the makings of a highly-effective player.

He needs to accept those limitations, understand that he will never be as glamorous a cricketer as Ben Stokes or Joe Root, and settle into a role he does better than just about anyone: blocking the hell out of the new ball and then accumulating runs. He needs to forget the past and the Andy Flower regime that came to distrust him and understand that the new management want only his success.

Hales looks in fine form. While some observers have felt his batting this season has been overly cautious, others feel he has added maturity and discipline to his obvious flair. The judgement of which balls to play around off stump will remain key to determining the success of Test openers and Hales struggled in that regard in South Africa. He still looks a more natural No. 3 but England's slightly quirkish desire to have one free-scoring opener has put him under undue pressure.

Under the carefree exterior, though, he has shown some courage. The decision to rest for the opening couple of rounds of Championship matches was both wise and brave. Others, certainly in previous regimes, would have wanted to be seen to do the right thing. It reflects well on Hales and the current England management that he was allowed to rest.

Vince is a fine-looking, elegant player. The sort who could spawn a thousands of imitators in playgrounds around the land - if they still have playgrounds these days; or if they still see Test cricket - and whose batting you could fall in love with. He remains, as yet, unproven against top-class bowling, but starting him at No. 5 provides him with the best chance of success.

Jonny Bairstow deserved the right to retain the gloves and looks in magnificent form with the bat. We know he is not the finished article as a keeper but he did recently out-keep Chris Read - no mean achievement - in the Championship game at Trent Bridge and in the absence of overwhelming evidence of better options has an opportunity to progress.

There are few surprises in the performance squad, either. Samit Patel, a member of the Test squads over the winter, is one noticeable but unsurprising omission, while Jamie Overton is preferred to his twin, Craig. It is a reversal of Somerset's selection policy but Jamie has pace and produced a sharp and impressive spell in front of Trevor Bayliss at Edgbaston a few days ago. Ben Foakes, meanwhile, has an opportunity to develop as first choice wicketkeeper with Surrey. His glovework looks good enough already; his batting requires extra concentration but he is one for the future.

It might be worth remembering that Sri Lanka beat England the last time they visited. Pakistan might have at least drawn the series, too, had the whole team been focussed on doing so. While a couple of fine batsmen have gone from that Sri Lanka team, the bowling attack will probably be very similar. Those who wanted to use these series for experimentation should remember that. There is no room for complacency.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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