Jonny Bairstow, James Anderson and Mark Wood have been recalled to England’s Test squad for the four-match series in South Africa which begins on Boxing Day. There is no place in the 17 man party, however, for Moeen Ali who continues to have a break from the Test arena.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
Bairstow was dropped for the tour to New Zealand last month after a poor Ashes series, during which he averaged just 23.77 across the five Tests. Given his pedigree, his omission was always likely to be temporary and Ed Smith, the chief selector, said as much when the party for New Zealand was announced. It is hoped that the short break has allowed Bairstow to recharge and will lead to a return to his best form as a batsman.
Whether the 30 year-old goes straight back into England’s final eleven remains to be seen, however. At present there is no obvious place in the batting order for him to return, given Jos Buttler is the number one keeper after reclaiming the gloves in New Zealand. The new-look top seven which played in the first Test in Mount Maunganui, before injury struck for the second game, did serviceably enough to warrant further chances.
While Bairstow’s return was expected, Moeen’s absence is somewhat of a surprise. At the end of the season, he ruled himself out of the New Zealand tour following discussions with the ECB. Dropped after one Test of the Ashes series, he felt a break from the longest format to help him refresh but it was expected that he would return for the South African tour to challenge Jack Leach’s position as number one spinner. “Moeen Ali, who asked to take a break from Test cricket last summer, remains unavailable for Test selection,” Smith said.
Moeen’s continued absence might not be a bad thing, however. England are considering an all-out seam attack for some of the Tests in South Africa and there is no guarantee that Leach would have been usurped by Moeen in the pecking order anyway. In that light, rather than having Moeen traipse round South Africa carrying drinks, more time at home might better serve his long-term interests. England will certainly want him available for the tour to Sri Lanka early next year.
Anderson and Wood return to the squad after calf and side injuries respectively. Anderson has played just one Test since the tour to the Caribbean at the start of this year, injuring his calf in that match against Australia at Edgbaston, while Wood has not played since the World Cup final in July. They are both currently in South Africa on a training camp and the fitness of both will continue to be monitored closely although Wood is not expected to be fit for the early part of the trip.
“It is not predicted that Mark will be available for selection for the earliest matches,” Smith said. “However, he will travel with the team and continue his rehab work with the medical staff on tour. There is no exact date given for his return, but the medical team is working towards him becoming fully available for selection during the tour. With that in mind, and given the extended period that James and Mark have had on the sidelines due to injury, it was sensible to have a 17-man squad.”
Warwickshire opener Dom Sibley retains his place in the squad despite two unremarkable Tests in New Zealand. He will be given further opportunities to prove he is the long-term opening partner for Rory Burns while Kent’s Zak Crawley, who made his debut in the second Test in Hamilton, also keeps his place in the squad as one of two extra batsmen alongside Bairstow.
Both Chris Woakes and Sam Curran make the squad after decent showings in New Zealand while there is no place for Lancashire’s quick Saqib Mahmood who was an unused member of the squad in New Zealand. Uncapped leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, Mahmood’s county teammate, will continue in his role as the squad’s second spinner.
England will depart for South Africa on Friday evening (December 13) and will play two warm-up games before the first Test at Centurion: a two-day game against a South African Invitational XI from December 17 and then a three-day first-class game against South Africa A, beginning on December 20. Both matches will take place at Willowmoore Park in Benoni.