James Anderson is set to be named in England’s first Test squad of the summer despite the groin injury that forced him out of action for Lancashire last week.
Alarm bells started ringing when the country’s record wicket-taker sat out the last three days of the LV= Insurance County Championship clash against Somerset, with the England and Wales Cricket Board confirming over the weekend that the seamer had a “mild strain to his right groin”.
England are due to to announce their group for the Test against Ireland on Tuesday morning and, although they will take no risks with Anderson’s fitness when it comes to team selection, the 40-year-old is expected to be included.
Anderson will continue to be assessed but a decision on his participation in the Lord’s curtain-raiser, which acts as England’s only competitive Ashes warm-up and and runs from June 1-4, will not be made until closer to the time.
Crawley’s place has been frequently scrutinised and a batting average of 27.60 across 33 Tests makes him vulnerable, but he has been given a long leash due to his high ceiling and ability to set a free-flowing tempo at the top of the order. An early season knock of 170 for Kent was testament to his up-side, but his lack of consistency comes through in his average of 38.88 in nine innings.
Stokes himself has been touted as a potential replacement at opener, a high-risk move that would represent a profound change of role for the skipper. There are lingering concerns over his preferred job as an all-rounder too though.
After his longstanding left knee injury flared up during February’s tour of New Zealand, Stokes spoke of his frustration at being unable to deliver as the side’s fourth seamer and his desperation to be back at full capacity in time for the Ashes.
But his time with Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League has proved trying, playing just twice for the franchise and sending down a solitary over at the cost of 18 runs. The 31-year-old subsequently picked up a toe problem and a further unspecified “setback” before being kept on the sidelines once available.
CSK have preferred another English all-rounder, Moeen Ali, due to his contribution as an off-spinner, but head coach Stephen Fleming has shed further light on the matter.
Speaking after his side’s defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday, the New Zealander suggested Stokes’ seamers were not currently an option and that he was instead being viewed as a specialist batter ahead of the final group-stage match.
“Ben’s ability to bowl overs at the moment is still a bit of a challenge, but he’s there as that batting cover,” said Fleming.
“But with Moeen bowling well in good conditions – we go to Delhi [next] which has been turning – we think the balance of the side has been right. We’re second on the table, so it’s not our style to chop and change just because we’ve had a loss where things didn’t go our way.”
Jonny Bairstow will make his return to the England set-up, almost 10 months on from breaking his leg in three places during a freak accident at a golf course. Bairstow was England’s star performer in 2022, at one stage smashing four centuries in five innings to give the new regime a thrilling, winning start.
England would be reluctant to dispense with a man they deem to be the best pure gloveman in the world, and a steadying influence at number seven, and will be tempted to defer the final decision by taking both Foakes and Bairstow to Lord’s.
With Jofra Archer’s ongoing elbow complaint and Olly Stone’s hamstring problem taking them out of the equation, England’s pace unit should look familiar with Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood to the fore.
Durham quick Matthew Potts has taken 24 wickets at 22.50 in Division Two to push his name back into centre stage after failing to feature over the winter, while Chris Woakes could also get the call 14 months on from his last Test appearance.
The Warwickshire man missed the entire 2022 home season through injury and has yet to play since Stokes and McCullum took the reins, but he boasts a fine record in English conditions and would strengthen the lower-order batting.