England take a weakened team into their first assignment of a packed summer already dreaming of their long and busy journey ending in the ultimate triumph of winning the Ashes.
New selection supremo Chris Silverwood has named a 15-man squad without five centrally-contracted Test players for two games against New Zealand aiming to provide experience to fringe cricketers that will give England the depth to beat Australia.
And that means opportunity knocks for the uncapped Ollie Robinson and James Bracey and the recalled Craig Overton while Dan Lawrence and Ben Foakes look certain to make their first home Test appearances.
Ollie Robinson has been included in the England squad to take on New Zealand this summer
‘We want to travel to Australia fitter, faster, leaner and more ready for the Ashes than ever before,’ said Silverwood after finalising his squad in Loughborough in a meeting shorn of national selector Ed Smith and convened by managing director Ashley Giles.
‘When we get off that plane it will be ”right, we’re here, we mean business and we’re full of confidence”. The New Zealand Tests are a great opportunity for players who wouldn’t normally get a chance to show us what they’ve got.
‘The here and now is part of the gradual process of getting towards the Ashes and we don’t want to have to hand out any debuts in Australia. We talk a lot about our game-plan for the Ashes and that has to be instilled in the players against New Zealand and India.’
The absence of the injured Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer and those centrally-contracted Test men just out of IPL quarantine in Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran certainly means Lawrence and Foakes can show Silverwood what they have got.
James Bracey is the other uncapped player to have been selected in the 15-man group
Root (captain), Anderson, Bracey, Broad, Burns, Crawley, Foakes (keeper), Lawrence, Leach, C Overton, Pope, Robinson, Sibley, Stone, Wood.
‘I have known them for a long while from my time at Essex because both came through their academy,’ said Silverwood. ‘We saw in the winter how Dan imposes his character on the team while Ben is a fantastic gloveman and a more than capable batsman.’
Lawrence is set to bat at six against the No1 ranked side in the Test world at Lord’s on June 2, with Ollie Pope moving up to five and Foakes at seven.
Robinson and Overton, two of the most prolific county bowlers of the last couple of years with Sussex and Somerset, then look to be competing to stand in for Woakes at eight.
The make-up of the rest of the bowling line-up is yet to be finalised – England must decide whether to play spinner Jack Leach or an all-seam attack – with Silverwood admitting the absence of Stokes, Woakes and Curran leaves them ‘a little unbalanced.’
Bracey, a top order left-handed batsman and keeper, is picked as cover for the top six and in case of injury to Foakes but will make his debut if Dom Sibley fails to prove his fitness on his return from a fractured finger for Warwickshire against Essex tomorrow.
The final word on everything will now be with coach Silverwood, who is fully aware of the extra pressure that will come with clarity over exactly who is picking the team.
Craig Overton of Somerset is also in the squad and has played four Tests for England
‘Ultimately the buck stopped with me anyway whether the national selector was there or not,’ he insisted. ‘But If the team under-performs it is me for the high jump. I accept that and I’m at peace with it.
‘What I don’t want to do is worry about it because that would stop me making decisions and pushing the team forward. I’m comfortable about the new role.’
Stokes, meanwhile, is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a badly fractured left index finger of his own and has already started bowling in practice. England hope he will return in the Twenty20 Blast for Durham next month.