It’s been a quite brilliant winter for England thus far. Having secured a whitewash away test match series win (who would have predicted that at the beginning of the year?), the Barmy Army will be returning home with something to cheer while they wait for their next instalment in the Caribbean in the New Year.
However, for players and selectors, competition for places will give a few sleepless nights with just one series to go before England attempt to reclaim the urn from Australia in a home series next summer.
We rank the runners and riders to be starting the first test in late July next year in order of certainty, and will be updating this on multiple occasions before the Ashes series begins.
- Joe Root – Captain of the side and without doubt England’s best batsman, only injury will stop Root leading England’s campaign.
- James Anderson – Test cricket’s all time leading wicket taking fast bowler and the master of English conditions. England may have to manage his workload over five tests, but he’ll bowl every over he can.
- Jos Buttler – He has gone from white ball specialist to test match vice captain in little under a year. Arguably the most destructive batsmen in world cricket, Buttler will be expected to deliver match defining performances throughout. One of now many wicket keeping options adds another string to his bow.
- Ben Stokes – Had a good series with both bat and ball in Sri Lanka, which was important having not looked his best while legal issues lingered earlier in the year. Now looks fit and gives England game changing options with bat and ball, something they so dearly lacked without him last winter.
The likely contenders:
- Keaton Jennings – The retirement of Alastair Cook probably prevented him being dropped before the Sri Lanka series, while his second test match hundred in this series has bought him additional time to cement the place as his own. Questions remain over his technique in English conditions but looks set to start the first test at least. While not enough to keep him in the side, his close catching has been superb in Sri Lanka.
- Moeen Ali – Took 18 of the 48 wickets claimed by England’s spinners in Sri Lanka, and was particularly effective in the 4th innings. Had a terrible time ‘down under’ but remains England’s favoured spin choice in home conditions. Needs to improve his batting having moved up and down the order.
- Ben Foakes – Has gone from sitting at home unselected, to Player of the Series in a matter of weeks. Has had to wait for his chance but looks unfazed by test match cricket. Hailed as one of the best keepers’ in world cricket by Alec Stewart, the fact that he retained the gloves over Jonny Bairstow, combined with warm praise from coach Trevor Bayliss, appears to suggest that he is here to stay.
- Sam Curran – Taken to test cricket with a maturity that belies his age. His counter attacking batting in the lower order has been exceptional, while he bowls with an aggression that England have lacked for some time.
In the balance:
- Jonny Bairstow – Having been a mainstay for many years, a freak injury appeared to have put Bairstow’s place in the side at risk. However, rotation in the final test allowed Bairstow to score a faultless hundred at number 3 which may have resolved one of England’s main outstanding selection dilemmas. Further good scores in the Caribbean will secure his spot.
- Rory Burns – A mixed set of scores to mark his debut test series, but importantly Burns looked confident in the environment. An unknown at the moment given the infancy of his test career – we should know more after the West Indies tour but we expect Burns to be given time to make the position his own given the number of options tried before him.
- Stuart Broad – Has been a stalwart of the England side for many years, but the exclusion from the first two matches in Sri Lanka may be a sign that his career is beginning to wind down. Will remain a force in England and likely to be included on this basis, but unlikely to feature as much on the road. May find his place under pressure should England opt for two spinners.
- Jack Leach – Had a wonderful series in Sri Lanka with 18 wickets to his name. Bowled more than Rashid and is a serial wicket taker in English conditions and therefore likely to be the preferred option should England opt for two spinners.
- Adil Rashid – See Ali and Leach. May be expensive at times but is a match winner that Root may still turn to should he look to take the game to the Australians.
- Chris Woakes – Has never quite lived up to expectations in red ball cricket, but may be a viable option should injuries hit Anderson or Broad, while adding yet more lower order batting depth.
Out of favour:
- Ollie Pope – In the original squad but not selected when injury arose to Bairstow, with Foakes drafted into the squad. Eventually released to the Lions to find much needed game time, Pope is likely to remain on the fringes for now given the strength of England’s all rounder options.
- Joe Denly – A possible contender to open should Burns or Jennings fail, but to be selected for the Sri Lanka series without featuring suggests Denly’s England chance may have gone for now.
- Jason Roy – A left field choice but has been suggested as another possible opening option, who may feel his chances would be boosted by England’s bold new approach.
- Olly Stone – Said to have bowled with real pace in the practice arena on tour, Stone offers something for future but next summer’s Ashes is not likely to be where it starts. Expect him to get his chance on future tours to South Africa or Australia.
- James Vince – After a winter of disappointment, Vince went back to county cricket and scored enough runs to make selectors look up and take note once more. However, the success of others on this trip and an apparent preference for all rounders appears to suggest Vince’s England chances may now be over.
- Jamie Porter – Unproven at test match level and unlikely to feature unless Anderson is injured and England look for something similar.
Not on the list: Includes a number of players who have fallen out of contention in the last year or so, including Tom Curran, Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan, Mason Crane and Alex Hales.