Chris Silverwood, England's head coach, says he is comfortable that the buck now stops with him, after unveiling a 15-man squad for the two-Test series against New Zealand next month - his first since being named as the new supremo of the ECB's selection process, following the end of Ed Smith's three-year tenure as national selector last month.
Silverwood's squad includes two uncapped players in James Bracey and Ollie Robinson, and a recall for Somerset's Craig Overton, but it will be missing both Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer due to injury, as well as the contingent of multi-format players - Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow among them - who flew home from India earlier this month following the postponement of the IPL.
However, with England's busy schedule in 2021 including a five-Test series against India and culminating in an Ashes campaign in Australia, Silverwood has called on the players at his disposal to seize their opportunities in the absence of their more established colleagues, and ensure that England travel Down Under in November with a squad that is brimming with both confidence and experience.
"It's one thing we've talked about, to try and get to the point where we're not debuting anybody in Australia," Silverwood said. "It's been a plan now for a while and we have given different people different experiences, debuted people, got more experience into people, so we're banking that all the way to the Ashes, really.
"To the youngsters who are coming in: 'Take your opportunity'," he added. "It's very simple. For the rest of the guys, it is to find that form and keep working on the game-plan we have, which is very simple - big first-innings runs and then finding a way of taking 20 wickets.
"I think we have a great mixture of experience and youth and it's a great opportunity to keep pushing that game-plan and keep getting better. Not only do we play New Zealand, one of the top nations in the world, but we also have India. It is another opportunity to keep galvanising this team moving forward to the Ashes."
Due to the expanded touring parties required for international cricket in the Covid era, Silverwood is better acquainted with the newer members of his England squad than many coaches before him would have been - which is part of the reason why the ECB deemed Smith's bespoke role to be surplus to current requirements. And though it means an extra workload for Silverwood, he said he welcomed the clarity that comes with the new arrangement.
"Busy is one way of putting it," he said. "But to be honest, ultimately the buck stops with me anyway, whether the selector was there or just me. If the team underperforms, it is me for the high jump. You have to accept that and I'm at peace with that as well.
"What I would not want to do is worry about it because that will stop me making decisions and pushing the team forward, so I'm comfortable with it. It has been busier contacting players and getting the relevant information together that would previously have been done by the chairman of selectors, but I'm happy with where things are at."
Bracey's selection could come to be seen as a test case for Silverwood's new role. For all that his county form this summer merits a call-up - he has made 478 runs at 53.11 to date in Gloucestershire's rise to the top of the Group 2 standings - most of his progress towards a Test debut has been made from within the England set-up, be it with the Lions in Australia two winters ago, or during his diligent hours of training in the bio-secure Test environment for the past year.
"There is a lot of downside [to bio-secure squads], but one of the upsides is I have spent so much time with players I would not usually see much of, and Bracey is one of those," Silverwood said. "He applied himself through last summer and this winter, when he was on the fringes and further away from playing than he would have liked, and his attitude in helping the squad and improving has been exceptional."
When Bracey was called into England's 55-man training squad last summer, he was a relative unknown who had averaged in the mid-30s in each of his previous two seasons for Gloucestershire. Since returning to his county, however, he has shown the value of being hot-housed in an elite environment, a point that Silverwood was keen to recognise.
"We have seen him come back from those experiences a better player, and I have no doubt if he were to play in the first Test, he will give himself the best chance of success," Silverwood said. "He is a quick learner, whatever situation we put him in, and he will move forward and take the opportunity with both hands.
"It can only help, having the best players in the world around you, and arguably some of the best coaches, and exposed to different conditions as well," Silverwood added. "They learn a lot from each other. You listen to guys talking at nets, and the experiences they share when it comes to playing different deliveries. If you are being exposed to that you can only be better if you go with your eyes open."
"Bracey is just one example. Look at the spinners who have come back this summer," Silverwood added, referencing the likes of Matt Parkinson, who has taken 19 wickets at 19.21 so far for Lancashire, and Dom Bess, who bounced back from a tough tour with a matchwinning five-for for Yorkshire at Hove. "They have all been involved somewhere and been successful in their own right. The investment in players this winter has been very rewarding."
In the absence of Stokes, as well as Woakes, Moeen Ali and Sam Curran, the other recognised allrounders in England's Test set-up, the issue of team balance will be a pressing one for Silverwood. But with Overton and Robinson both very capable batters in their own rights, he's confident that England will have the depth to withstand one of the world's leading seam attacks, as well as the firepower to make inroads of their own.
"I've selected a squad that gives me every option, to be honest," Silverwood said. "You lose a Woakes, a Curran or a Stokes, it does make it very difficult to balance a side. But the two of them [Overton and Robinson] are very capable with the bat and will give us those options around seven or eight, which is what we need really.
"I think the two of them are competing with each other realistically," he added. "They have done exceptionally well this summer, hence they are both in the squad. It is difficult to split the two of them on their performances and I can't fault their attitude on the field in the games and what I've seen of them. They are fantastic cricketers with opportunities in front of them."
Amid all the rhetoric about peaking for the Ashes, there is an obvious danger for England in facing India and New Zealand this summer. They are, after all, the two best Test teams in the world, to judge by their places in next month's World Test Championship final. Silverwood, however, insisted that the processes put in place since he and Joe Root took control of the team's Test fortunes two years ago were robust enough to cope with such a relentless set of challenges.
"We want to travel to Australia, fitter, faster, leaner, more ready than ever before, and they get off the plane and it is 'right we're here, we mean business and we're full of confidence'," he said. "But the here-and-now is part and parcel of the gradual process of getting to the Ashes.
"We talk a lot about what it'll look like when we get to the Ashes, but that game-plan has to be practised and instilled in the India series, the New Zealand series. It's a continuation of working on the game-plan and getting people in a good space, making sure they have banked plenty of Test experience before they arrive there.
"We have the greatest respect for our opposition. We have two great Test teams here. To get to where we want to be against Australia, we have to perform well and carry that respect into these Tests as well."