Fitness, form present familiar dilemmas as England prepare to name first Test squad of new era

Jamie Overton, Harry Brook and Matthew Potts are among the contenders for selection on Wednesday morning

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Jamie Overton, Harry Brook and Matthew Potts are in contention for the Test squad

Jamie Overton, Harry Brook and Matthew Potts are in contention for the Test squad  •  Getty Images

After a turbulent winter, England's home season begins in just over a fortnight with a three-Test series against New Zealand. Ben Stokes has succeeded Joe Root as captain, with Brendon McCullum appointed only last week as the Test team's new head coach - but there are few certainties about the squad to be named on Wednesday, ahead of the first Test at Lord's.
An expanded party is likely, with potentially as many as 16 or 17 players named by a selection panel that will have inputs from Stokes, McCullum, head scout James Taylor and managing director Rob Key. Here, we take a look at those in the frame and the key areas of consideration.


A perennial problem area for selection, from the cast of thousands who partnered Alastair Cook to frequent chopping and changing among four or five familiar candidates over the last couple of years. Zak Crawley and Alex Lees are the incumbent openers, but they averaged just 21.33 across six Tests in the Caribbean, with a highest stand of 51. Since coming back, Crawley has struggled for form with Kent - four single-figure scores and a best of 54 from eight innings - but can point to innings of 77 at the SCG and 121 in Antigua, not to mention his mammoth 267 in 2020, as reasons to stick with him.
Lees, meanwhile, has scored two Championship hundreds and two fifties for Durham, and might potentially benefit from having the England captain as a county team-mate. Among the recently discarded, Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed have a century apiece but not much else, while Dom Sibley looks to have rediscovered his mojo to average 53.83 for Warwickshire. Two ghosts of summers past, Keaton Jennings and Sam Robson, are in even better form - Jennings has scored 348 runs from two innings, including a career-best 238 in last week's Roses match - but may need a sustained season of run-scoring to return to contention.
Probable: Zak Crawley
Possibles: Alex Lees, Dom Sibley

Middle-order batters

Some clarity here, at least. Two of the very few selection certainties are Root and Stokes, who have already been inked in at No. 4 and No. 6 respectively. That means England are looking for a No. 3 - another position that has tended to be filled by locums - and a No. 5, with a variety of fresh faces and previously capped players making a case among the glut of early season run-scoring. Of those actually batting at No. 3 for their counties, the three with the best numbers are Ben Duckett, Tom Abell and Nick Gubbins, none of whom has been close to selection recently. For that reason, England could return to Dawid Malan, who was first drop in Australia over the winter and has 482 runs at 80.33 this season, mostly batting at No. 4 - though he will miss this round of Championship fixtures with a sore Achilles - or even shuffle Crawley back down.
Dan Lawrence had his moments in the Caribbean but has yet to make a score in the Championship and has been sidelined by a hamstring injury, potentially handing Ollie Pope (417 at 69.50) another bite at the cherry; Jonny Bairstow revived his Test career over the winter but would have to make a swift transition from playing at the IPL. Also in the mix will be Yorkshire batter Harry Brook, who has made three centuries and 758 runs at an average of 151.60 amid a stellar start to the summer. The 23-year-old, who won a T20I cap in February, looks cut out for Test cricket and would be a bold choice to debut between Root and Stokes at No. 5.
Definites: Joe Root, Ben Stokes
Probables: Ollie Pope, Harry Brook, Jonny Bairstow
Possibles: Dawid Malan, Tom Abell, Nick Gubbins, Dan Lawrence


England seemed to have finally made up their mind to give Ben Foakes a crack at proving his credentials as the world's best gloveman - copyright, Alec Stewart - during an extended run in the Test side. But his keeping in the West Indies was a little scruffy, and neither did the runs flow… meanwhile, over at the IPL, Jos Buttler has slipped seamlessly back into his groove as one of the most-domineering forces in the white-ball game. Could his friendship with Stokes, as well as the support of a fellow T20 maverick in McCullum, lead to Buttler making yet another Test comeback? The fact the first Test begins just four days after the IPL final, with Buttler's Rajasthan Royals very much still in contention, mitigates the chances - but stranger things have happened. For that reason we can't entirely discount Bairstow either, a key man alongside Stokes in the engine room during his best years in Test cricket. But Foakes, who has made 395 runs at 98.75 for Surrey, remains the frontrunner.
Probable: Ben Foakes
Possible: Jos Buttler


It is almost a decade since England rested both James Anderson and Stuart Broad from a home Test against West Indies as part of some attempted succession planning. But here we are, a couple of months after they were both omitted for the tour to the Caribbean, with the old stagers primed to take centre stage once again. Stokes has already intimated that he considers them both part of his best XI, and they are - somewhat ironically - among the few fit options at England's disposal. A lengthy list of those in the treatment room includes Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Fisher and Jofra Archer, while Sam Curran is easing his way back from a back stress fracture and Ollie Robinson has only delivered 59 overs - some of that bowling offspin - across two outings for Sussex.
Durham's Matthew Potts is the bolter most-likely to benefit, having claimed 35 wickets already this season, including four five-fors and match figures of 11 for 101 in his most-recent game; Jamie Overton could also win a first call-up, having offered a sustained pace threat with Surrey.
As for the spinners, Matt Parkinson is the leading wicket-taker in the country among spin bowlers and can surely do no more to make England pick him, but Jack Leach did an admirable job in against West Indies and produced a timely eight-for in Somerset's win over Gloucestershire last week.
Definites: James Anderson, Stuart Broad
Probables: Matthew Potts, Jack Leach
Possibles: Jamie Overton, Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton, Matt Parkinson

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick