England will pick strongest XI for first West Indies Test despite rotation plans
Stuart Broad could miss his first home Test since 2012 this summer
England's bowlers have been told by the selectors that the team picked for the first Test against West Indies will be the strongest possible side, despite the acceptance that rotation will be a feature of the summer.
The 30-man training group named ahead of the West Indies series includes 18 seamers, with the ECB's performance director Mo Bobat telling ESPNcricinfo last month that "our depth will get challenged" by a "pretty brutal schedule". England are set to play six Tests in a seven-week window across the West Indies and Pakistan series, and the team's management are expected to give opportunities to fringe players at some stage.
That could mean that Stuart Broad misses a Test match in England for the first time since 2012, breaking a streak that currently stands at 51 consecutive appearances at home. Jacques Kallis is the only pace bowler to have played more consecutive home Tests with 54. Speaking from the bubble at the Ageas Bowl on Sunday, Broad admitted that he was reluctant to miss any cricket, but accepted that there was a "bigger picture" for the support staff to consider.
"We've been told as a bowling group that the strongest team will be picked for the first Test. The aim is to get into that," Broad said. "The last Test I missed in England was against West Indies in 2012, when I was named in the starting XI [before the toss] but it rained for the first two days and Andy Flower decided that a three-day Test match was one to take a rest from, over which we had an argument at the time.
"I don't like missing cricket. I feel fit at the moment - my fitness tests have been as strong as ever in this come-back-to-cricket period - but we all know how hard fast bowling is. One of my strengths over the years has been to play consistently, so the body has been used to the workload, and it has never had that period of stopping, to then have that shock of coming back.
"That is the period we're in now, and Ed Smith, James Taylor [England's selectors] and Chris Silverwood [head coach] in the selection panel have been clear that, yes, we want to play our best team as often as possible, but we're not going to put bodies at major risk."
Despite his admission that he would rather not miss a Test, Broad conceded that the risk of injury will be heightened this summer. There have already been parallels drawn with football, where the Bundesliga and the Premier League have seen a spike in injury rates, and Broad used the example of James Anderson's injury at Newlands to illustrate the problem.
"There is certainly no panic over the strength in depth of English fast bowling"Stuart Broad
"We all wear these GPS devices now, and the stats that Phil Scott [England's strength and conditioning coach] pulls together are quite interesting. He can almost predict when an injury might happen. If you bowl 25 or 30 overs in a day, you won't get injured the next day - it's a bounce of two weeks when the height of risk of injury comes, which is why rest and recuperation comes into it.
"If you're in the team on July 8 and you do your job and bowl well and you bowl the team out by only bowling 20 overs in the Test then I'm assuming you're going to play in the next game. That has got to be your aim, and I'd love the opportunity to start. It's always going to be hard and frustrating if you're told you're not playing in a Test, but there is a bigger picture for them looking after us.
"We can see [from when] Jimmy came back on Boxing Day - we had a bit of illness, so he bowled loads on Boxing Day and then got injured ten days later. We want to avoid those sorts of things with our bodies not feeling as tough, as cricket-hardened as they would be in a normal summer."
If England do choose to rotate, they will not have any shortage of options to choose from. Players on the fringes of selection like Saqib Mahmood, Jamie Overton and Ollie Robinson will push for inclusion in the final squad for this series in a three-day warm-up match starting on Wednesday, while England have already used as many as eight frontline seamers in Test cricket in the past 12 months.
"You have 30 people trying to get in 11 spots, so training has been nicely intense," Broad said. "The coaches have been telling us to make sure we control our intensity a little, because obviously if we come in and spike our workloads and get up to too high an intensity, we risk injury.
"There is certainly no panic over the strength in depth of English fast bowling. We've all come here fit and fresh, which is rare for a fast-bowling group. The dream ticket is to board a flight for Brisbane [ahead of the 2021-22 Ashes] and having this lot of fast bowlers all ready to go.
"Can we have Olly Stone, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, these sort of pace guys, Woakes, Curran, Broad, Anderson, all fit, fresh and ready to go? If we can, we've got a chance of winning there."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98