England's squad for the first Test against India, starting at Edgbaston next week, is due to be announced on Thursday. While the white-ball teams have been ticking along nicely, there remain several issues for the selectors to ponder in the longest format. England drew 1-1 with Pakistan earlier in the summer, with Ed Smith's first big decisions as national selector including a recall for Jos Buttler, handing Dom Bess his debut, and dropping Mark Stoneman in favour of Keaton Jennings. Here we take a look at some of the calls Smith, James Taylor and Trevor Bayliss will have to make ahead of a demanding five-match series against the No. 1-ranked Test side.
Alastair Cook confirmed his readiness for consecutive Test No. 155 by scoring 180 for the Lions against India A last week, and he is likely to be joined at the top of the order by Jennings, who batted once for 29 on his return at Headingley, but has been in productive form this season for Lancashire, with three Championship hundreds. That would mean no room for Surrey's Rory Burns, currently the leading run-scorer in the country, unless the selectors wanted to shuffle Joe Root back down to No. 4. What seems more likely is Dawid Malan retaining his place at four, having scored twin fifties for the Lions - Burns, who captained the team, made 5 and 38 - above England's multi-faceted lower-middle order engine room. Malan's Middlesex team-mate Nick Gubbins, who made 73 against India A, might be a contender as the summer wears on.
Injury kept Ben Stokes out of England's last Test, and he will miss the second match of the India series due to his impending court appearance, but he is a default pick at No. 6 and proved his bowling is in good order by taking 8 for 118 in Durham's Championship match this week. If England stick with the blueprint used against Pakistan, Stokes will have Jonny Bairstow above him and Jos Buttler below. While it might make sense to give the gloves to the man lower down, Bairstow has been bullish about his ability to keep and bat at No. 5, while Buttler seemed to thrive on the freedom of coming in lower down, and has so far managed to maintain the purple patch of form that caught Smith's eye during the IPL. Sam Curran, the debutant who came in for Stokes against Pakistan, could also be included with an eye towards Lord's.
Although the senior new-ball pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been managing injuries over the last few weeks, both seemed to come through Championship games - for Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, respectively - without any issues. The same can't be said for Mark Wood, who bowled only six overs at Cheltenham before complaining of pain in his heel; he went for a scan on Tuesday, with Durham coach Jon Lewis saying "it could be something and nothing", but England may not want to risk him. Chris Woakes, the third seamer at Headingley, subsequently missed six weeks with a thigh problem and only managed match figures of 2 for 139 for Warwickshire over the past few days at Lord's, but a record of 46 wickets at 23.76 in home Tests stands in his favour. Other candidates might include Jake Ball, who played his last Test during the winter's Ashes; Essex's Jamie Porter, the leading wicket-taker in the Championship last season; Somerset's Overton twins, with the oft-injured Jamie showcasing some impressive pace in their ongoing match at New Road; and even Matt Fisher, Yorkshire's former England U-19 who was part of the Lions team that thrashed India A by 253 runs.
If Smith wants to roll the dice, then this is perhaps the most likely department for a gamble. Talk swirled last week about a possible recall for Adil Rashid - after he left Virat Kohli goggling at a sharp-turning legbreak during the third ODI - but he has not played a first-class game since September, and Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale said on Tuesday there had been no signs of Rashid pushing for a comeback. Bess impressed with his all-round ability against Pakistan, but was left out this week by Somerset in favour of Jack Leach, whose broken thumb initially gave Bess a shot with England. Left-armer Leach might offer a more probing line of attack against India's battery of right-hand batsmen, and if England want an offspin option as well, that could open up a way back for Moeen Ali. Dropped for Leach in New Zealand, Moeen seems to have rediscovered his bowling confidence with England's white-ball teams, and this week claimed 8 for 170 against Somerset - including his first Championship five-for since 2013. India, against whom he took 19 wickets at 23.00 in 2014, would surely be wary of a repeat.
Alan Gardner is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick