England may still be in South Africa, but the squad for their tour of Sri Lanka was named on Tuesday and the series isn’t far away.
The team will fly out next month ahead of the first Test on 19 March and the 16-man squad features some interesting calls.
I am happy to see Ben Foakes back in the squad. I thought the Surrey wicket-keeper was harshly treated before: he came into the side for the tour of Sri Lanka in 2018, scored a hundred on debut, kept well, made runs batting with the tail and then was dropped after the tour of the West Indies last winter.
For me, Foakes is the best wicket-keeper England have and, now he’s been recalled, I would like to see him get an extended run with the gloves.
Sri Lanka is a good place for him to start. He knows the country and the conditions well, having played there with England, the Lions, Surrey and Colts Cricket Club in Colombo.
He’s not a one-trick pony who is only able to play on slower subcontinent pitches – he is a proper player who averages 41.50 in his five Tests so far – but he can show that he fits the mould Chris Silverwood is looking for.
Foakes is more of an old school player, compared to Jonny Bairstow and especially Jos Buttler, who are explosive talents with the bat. Foakes is a grafter and I think his mentality is a strong attribute to have in Test cricket.
Horses for courses
Keaton Jennings has also been recalled, in what must be a horses for courses decision. The opener has struggled in home conditions, repeatedly being dismissed in the same fashion, but his two Test centuries have come in the subcontinent, where he appears much more at ease.
Jennings is a good player of spin and he is lucky that Rory Burns’ injury has coincided with a trip to a country where he has an impressive record, having made an unbeaten 146 in Galle in November 2018.
The Lancashire left-hander is well-known to England, having played 17 Tests, but he is not the way I would have gone, as I don’t see him becoming a mainstay of the side in the future.
Zak Crawley showed promise in the South Africa Tests and is deserving of some more time at the top of the order to develop his partnership with Dominic Sibley.
I just hope Jennings is going on the tour as a back-up batsman who is suited to the conditions and not to take Crawley’s place.
Break for Bairstow
Bairstow may not have been included in the squad, but he has a central contract for Test cricket so is still in the selectors’ thoughts.
Although he has developed a reputation as a fantastic white-ball player, it’s clear Bairstow has the drive for the longest format, and when he plays he wants to keep wicket too.
That determination is good to have, but I think this time away from the side could benefit him, like Moeen Ali, who has taken a break.
Bairstow can take some time to reflect, work on a few things and reset his goals before playing some county cricket.
If he can continue scoring runs against the white ball and find some confidence against the red ball I’m sure a Test return will materialise.
As for Moeen, I think this self-imposed break will benefit him in the long run. He needs to be 100 per cent right both mentally and physically before he rejoins the Test side.
Although Jack Leach and Dom Bess have both come into the side and impressed, I still think England have missed Moeen at times. He is such an important cog in the wheel, and at 32 he still has a lot of mileage left in him.