Rob Yates, Liam Norwell, Josh Bohannon named in England Lions squad
The Lions will provide opposition for two of England's Ashes warm-up matches
Rob Yates and Liam Norwell, two members of the double-winning Warwickshire side, are among the new faces in the England Lions party to tour Australia later this year. Lancashire batter Josh Bohannon and Surrey's Jamie Smith have also received their first call-ups.
The 14-man squad, which will shadow the Test side and provide the opposition for two of England's Ashes warm-up fixtures, includes four players who have previously played Test cricket, in James Bracey, Mason Crane, Ben Foakes and Dom Sibley.
Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood, who have been regularly involved in England white-ball squads and came into discussions for the Ashes, are also in the group, while Durham opener Alex Lees returns to Lions contention for the first time in six years.
Danny Briggs, Warwickshire's left-arm spinner, reportedly asked not to be considered for family reasons, while Liam Livingstone was overlooked because of the red-ball focus of the tour, according to Mo Bobat, the ECB's performance director.
"From a red-ball perspective, put simply, it felt like there were other players ahead of him right now," Bobat said. "He's done incredibly well in white-ball cricket, [but] some of his red-ball numbers probably in the last couple of years might not be what he's wanted. He's probably missed a bit of cricket as well, from being around England environments."
Livingstone, who is currently with England's squad at the T20 World Cup and is then slated to play in the Abu Dhabi T10, has previously indicated a desire to rest.
Yates scored five first-class centuries during a breakthrough summer, while Norwell was Warwickshire's leading wicket-taker as they won the County Championship and Bob Willis Trophy. Bohannon, a nuggety middle-order player, made 853 runs at 53.31 in the Championship, while Smith, who can bat in a variety of positions and also keeps wicket, scored three hundreds while averaging 43.73.
The Lions are due to depart for Australia next month, where they will quarantine in Queensland before helping to sharpen England's Ashes preparations in two intra-squad matches - one three-day fixture and one four-day, with the question of first-class status to be determined. They are also due to play Australia A in Brisbane from December 9-12 before flying home a few days later, although a few may stay on as Ashes cover.
Bobat said that on previous Test tours, warm-up fixtures provided by the hosts "haven't necessarily been as competitive as we want", and that playing against the Lions - a move that mirrors Australia's build up to the 2019 Ashes - would allow greater control over the squad's preparation.
"I think it's probably quite widely known that touring/warm-up games in recent years and countries probably haven't been what they used to be," he said. "We certainly found, I think on the last Ashes trip, that that was the case and that probably didn't serve the purpose that we wanted. And certainly when you speak to the likes of Joe Root and Chris Silverwood, they often talk about when we've done games amongst ourselves in recent in recent history that we've been able to be flexible where we've needed to be flexible and dial up the pressure and the intensity when we want to to, too."
Of those with Test experience, Sibley was in the side most recently, having been dropped midway through the India series - and Bobat indicated that there could still be the opportunity for those involved with the Lions to push themselves into contention for the full squad.
"That will definitely be something that motivates those players," Bobat said. "There'll be a couple of those no doubt, having had a few conversations, there'll be some that were disappointed not to be in the full Ashes squad. We picked a squad that was 17 in size - some people might have thought we'd announced a bigger squad than that. But what that ultimately does is it gives us a chance to reflect, better flexibility as well, and actually if two or three of the players really stand out on this Lions experience, that will really give both Root and Silverwood something to think about."
With Ben Stokes having posted social media footage on Thursday of his first hit since recent surgery on his finger, Bobat said that it was "hugely positive" but reiterated England's stance that he would not be rushed back for Australia.
"It's pleasing, as people are probably noticing more broadly and we've noticed internally with all of our communication with him, to see his energy and excitement return and him trusting his finger again which is really important. So that's hugely positive and hugely exciting. Ultimately, given what he's experienced and where he's been. It's important that he and we move at the right pace for him."
England Lions squad: Tom Abell (Somerset), Josh Bohannon (Lancashire), James Bracey (Gloucestershire), Brydon Carse (Durham), Mason Crane (Hampshire), Matthew Fisher (Yorkshire), Ben Foakes (Surrey), Alex Lees (Durham), Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire), Liam Norwell (Warwickshire), Matt Parkinson (Lancashire), Dom Sibley (Warwickshire), Jamie Smith (Surrey), Rob Yates (Warwickshire)