With no county cricket to judge players this season, the pickers have naturally relied heavily on tour performance from last winter. And that includes the Lions’ journey from England to Australia, where they won the unofficial “Test” against a solid Australia A team by nine wickets. Several of the eight unrestricted players announced in this training group were involved with this team and, therefore, gave their long-term prospects a huge boost. They may well figure when England returns in about 18 months.
It is therefore with a view to looking at them more closely, and to allow them to know the great players who dominate in this Test team, that several of these young players are included. In doing so, management hopes that players will settle into their new environment and learn a little more about the work ethic and attitudes that have made Ben Stokes such exceptional players.
Alongside Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Dom Bess, all under the age of 25 but having already taken the first steps in their testing career, England is seeking to identify the nucleus of a team that might be useful to them. of the next decade.
But if many of the new faces have been chosen for the future, the exception could be Dan Lawrence. He scored a century in this unofficial test as well as 190 in the warm-up match. At only 22 years old, he already seems to have gone through a delicate phase of his career to emerge with a technique and a temperament improved by experience. If Joe Root is really missing a paternity test, Lawrence would appear to be next in line and could present this series.
“Many of these players have successfully participated in the Lions’ journey,” said Smith. “Australia is where England will go next winter for the iconic Ashes series and it was really encouraging to see England not only winning in Australia, which is always a good fact to watch, but also the performances of Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, Dan Lawrence, James Bracey and others too.
“This is a great opportunity for this group of players to join an English training group and meet the best players in the country and established players from the test team.
“In modern times, England has tried to get emerging players into the environment so that you don’t have a beginner meeting senior players for the first time at the start, as was often the case. Nothing could be better in terms of familiarization and working where you stand as a cricketer than being among the best.
“We are very happy that young players are pushing hard in all positions. It’s a great opportunity for them and it doesn’t happen very often. ”
In truth, we have learned relatively little from the announcement of this “training group.” Perhaps we will learn more when England names their extended team after their warm-up match in early July – even then, including reserves, there could be up to 20 players included – but, for the There remains a debate over who is England. first choice goalkeeper, spinner and # 3 could be. The smart money suggests the answers are, respectively, Jos Buttler, Jack Leach and Zak Crawley but the likes of Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali and Joe Denly will all have different ideas. There is still room for change.
There may also be tricky decisions to be made regarding the identity of the prime sewing attack. But with the tests to come, once they start, thick and fast and many of these bowlers require gentle handling, the concept of “first choice” probably requires shelves. The fast and pure bowlers – i.e. Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone – seem particularly well suited to Australian surfaces, but it would be a brave captain who would have gone into a game without a workhorse or two for complete them.
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This is where Craig Overton comes in. England’s management hopes that by giving it a central contract – well, the dressmakers’ version, anyway – and by providing specific training and a slightly lighter county workload, they will be able to help it add a few miles an hour and one or two skills to his game. They already know he has the character to thrive while others will wither. Now they think he could be the man to contribute 25 tight snacks a day, allowing his faster colleagues to turn, on the type of afternoon cooking in Brisbane that broke the spirit of generations of its predecessors.
Before this pandemic, it was tempting to look at the calendar and wonder if the last summer test could prove the farewell match of Stuart Broad and James Anderson. It was Trent Bridge, after all, that was special ground for the two. And with a series of tests to follow in India, it would be understandable if they took the opportunity to call it one day.
At the moment, however, the two are keeping at least convincing cases for selection under English conditions. There will be pressure on team management to think about succession planning as summer progresses, but both deserve better than leaving for the last time in a bio-secure location without crowd to applaud them. Besides, we’ve been talking this way for years. The two have bowled like never before.
Some have missed. Dawid Malan has a calf injury and will not be in good shape for the series, while Sam Northeast, Tom Abell and Brydon Carse are omitted from this side of the Lions. With the exception of Carse, they now find themselves in the awkward position of Gary Ballance and James Vince of knowing that there are younger men in their place. It will be a comfort to each of them to know that there is a growing prospect of the return of first class domestic cricket from August.
And that’s the big picture here. Whatever reproaches anyone may have with the names of this training team, the good news is that it marks a new step towards the return of something that approaches normalcy. It must be celebrated.