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Adaptable Phil Salt keeps things simple ahead of latest England chance

Lancashire batter set for middle-order opportunity on home ground as Ben Stokes' replacement

Phil Salt laughs while speaking to the press  •  PA Images/Getty

Phil Salt laughs while speaking to the press  •  PA Images/Getty

Get a spot in the XI, make an impression. As Phil Salt says himself, "that's about how complicated it gets in my mind".
The 25-year-old looks set to replace Ben Stokes in England's team in second ODI at Emirates Old Trafford on Friday. He will probably bat at No. 6, with Moeen Ali moving up to No. 4 as England look to pull back level with the Proteas after losing the opening match of the series on Tuesday.
This seventh ODI cap - it would be his 11th overall in international limited-overs cricket - would be the continuation of a trend for Salt: throughout his career, he has adjusted to different situations and opportunities. Born in Wales, he started out as a keener footballer before his family relocated to Barbados and, naturally given his new surroundings, picked up an affinity for cricket. It was in the Caribbean he became friends with Jofra Archer, whom he later joined at Sussex following a scholarship to Reed's School, Surrey.
The switch to Lancashire this season was, in many ways, an easy decision to make. Beyond the pull of moving to a Test-venue county that contests for red and white-ball trophies, Salt grew up a Lancashire fan. "This is the ground where I watched my first game of cricket," he revealed. "Back when I was eight or nine - [Andrew] Flintoff's testimonial."
"It's my first time being in around it with the full-strength squad, being in the conversation for being in the XI."
During that period, he has batted anywhere and everywhere. His red-ball work used to be at the top of the order until this season with a regular spot at No. 6 for Lancashire. As it happens, he has batted in every top-seven position aside from No. 4.
There has been far more clarity in white-ball cricket, with a huge back-catalogue as an opener, particularly in the shortest format. Likewise when it comes to his List A record, though there have only been 22 appearances in that format. Then came the step-up to internationals, where four out of his 10 innings have come at No. 4, 6 and 7.
Like many others, Salt's approach to opening was inspired by the manner in which Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy have conducted themselves up top over the last few years. The defeat at Chester-le-Street featured the pair's 14th century stand. Both aged 32, it is a combination that will certainly be in play for this winter's T20 World Cup and the 50-over World Cup next year.
Thus the two options for Salt are to either bide his time for his usual spot or simply get busy elsewhere. And of course, he is opting for the latter.
"It is the best opening partnership in 50-over cricket," he said of Roy and Bairstow. "There's no doubt about that. Look at the numbers, the way they play and the way they've changed how the game is played. There's a lot of people in international cricket that want to copy them and follow how they play. In my opinion, they've set the bar for a good few years now. But wherever my opportunity comes, that's where it comes."
As far as a Stokes replacement, a right-handed opener who keeps wicket on the side isn't quite like-for-like. But in terms of attitude, there is plenty of crossover: a punchy young cricketer who never shirks a challenge, whose attacking style comes from wanting to impose himself on opposing bowlers.
You could also argue there is a selflessness in the way he approaches batting. Though he prefers to face the new ball, he has always focused on being as fluid as possible.
"I'm very aware that the best players in the world can bat anywhere," Salt said. "You see that when look around all the top domestic leagues in international cricket. You know, the best players are the ones who can adapt and improvise and find different ways of getting the job done for most situations."
He credits the T20 circuit for not just allowing him to interact with those kind of players and pick their brains, but also show him the level he needs to be. "Franchise cricket, for me showed me the level that I needed to be at," he said. "When I first played when I was only 21 or 22.
"I'm very grateful for that, playing all sorts of different places all over the world in different conditions against different bowling. I'd say the biggest thing that gave me was a reality check of how good the top level is. And if you want to do it and you want to be the best, this is what you're gonna have to do."
Maybe you could argue there's a degree of selfishness in covering all bases, thus giving himself the best odds when it comes to selection. But Salt's position as the next man in is entirely on merit, albeit partly aided by the fact Harry Brook is engaged in a County Championship match for Yorkshire against Somerset.
Salt currently averages 58.66 across his six ODI caps, with two fifties and one century, which he scored against the Netherlands last month. But number seven would be the most meaningful of all his caps so far: for the first time, he will be part of a first-choice team rather than as part of the Covid-19 replacement group who took on Pakistan last summer, the rotated T20I squad against West Indies earlier this year and the parallel squad out in Amsterdam while England were playing a Test series with New Zealand.
As such, Friday could be the most meaningful day of his international career so far. "It's my first time being in around it with the full-strength squad, being in the conversation for being in the XI," he said. "That's exciting for myself, 100 percent. That's all I can say: I'm excited if the opportunity does come and I'll be looking to take it.
"I've been on the fringes for a while. And I want to get in there and show people what I can do."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo