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‘No doors are closed,’ says Ed Smith after Bairstow, Moeen Test omissions

The omission of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali from England’s 21-man Test party to take on West Indies was in part a reflection of their importance in white-ball cricket, rather than a statement on the current pecking order, according to Ed Smith, the ECB’s national selector. Smith confirmed that both players would move over to the “white-ball bubble” in the coming days, suggesting it made sense to do so once it was deemed neither was likely to make the first Test playing XI.

With England’s rearranged summer schedule largely dictated by the protocols around Covid-19 and bio-security, and an ODI series against Ireland expected to begin two days after the end of the third West Indies Test, the selectors were always going to be faced with making difficult choices about which formats to prioritise for certain players.

ALSO READ: England stick with Denly, no room for Bairstow, Ali in Test squad

Bairstow is currently behind Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes in the queue to keep wicket, and has had little opportunity to burnish his first-class batting record since being dropped last year, while Ali was unable to put pressure on Dom Bess as the incumbent spinner during this week’s warm-up game. Rather than be retained among the reserves – staying with the 13-man squad in case of the need to make Covid-19 substitutions – they will instead begin limited-overs preparations, with a white-ball group expected to be named in the coming week or so.

“With Moeen and Jonny, part of the calculation is that they have been in the white-ball squad and been very good performers in white-ball cricket,” Smith said. “You know if they’re not in the eleven here, obviously it’s good that they’re playing cricket in the white-ball team.”

Bairstow and Ali have been on the periphery of the Test side since last summer’s Ashes. Bairstow lost the gloves to Buttler at the conclusion of the series, and was left out of the Test squad for tours of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, while Ali opted not to make himself available for England’s winter Test commitments after losing his central contract, citing a desire for rest.

England chose to pick Essex’s Dan Lawrence and Gloucestershire’s James Bracey as batting back-up at the Ageas Bowl, after both impressed during the three-day intra-squad game. But Smith reiterated the suggestion he made at the end of last summer that there was still scope for Bairstow to come again as a Test force.

“A couple of things with Jonny. No one doubts he’s a very good cricketer across formats for England. No doors are closed for Jonny. We’re fully aware of what he can do in Test cricket, and of course we’re fully aware of his talent in all forms of the game. It’s also the case that we are where we were. When Covid-19 caused a suspension of cricket, Jos Buttler was the man in possession – still is the man in possession – and has our full support as England’s wicketkeeper-batsman. And Ben Foakes was the deputy on the tour of Sri Lanka. That’s where it is today.

“It’s also the case that Jonny is in the white-ball team, and has had an exceptional spell of form in white-ball cricket. There’s cricket to be played there. It seemed the best arrangement for Jonny to move over to the white-ball bubble and to stick with the consistency of where we were.

“I wouldn’t make any presumptions, in terms of anything being blocked for Jonny. There’s a wide understanding of how good Jonny is when he’s at his best, and that’s not going to be forgotten. Jonny’s a very talented player, and has played some very fine innings across England formats.”

Similarly, with Somerset pair Bess and Jack Leach competing for the berth of No. 1 Test spinner, Ali was overlooked for a Test recall. Smith again characterised Bess as the man “in possession”, with Leach included among the reserves.

“We’re very glad that Moeen is available for Test cricket,” Smith said. “Moeen is a trusted and valuable England cricketer, and as a selection panel we’ve always wanted to select from the widest available talent pool. Moeen being available is good news for the talent in the spin department. It’s also the case that Dom Bess did very well in South Africa, and Jack Leach has had spells in recent months when he’s been England’s spinner, and illness and injury have been very unfortunate for Jack. But we’re glad that Moeen is available again.”

The other topic for deliberation was the shape of England’s top order, with Rory Burns returning from injury after missing three Tests in South Africa. The selectors opted to stick with Joe Denly – a decision eased by the absence of Joe Root while he attends the birth of his child – rather than look at an uncapped option such as Lawrence.

Smith pointed to England’s 3-1 success in South Africa, and a renewed emphasis under Chris Silverwood on the top order looking to bat time in order to set up big scores; Denly has faced 100-plus balls in nine of his last 15 innings, although he hasn’t converted any of his six Test fifties into a hundred. Smith also said that he expected Denly to keep his place at No. 3, meaning Zak Crawley, an opener who deputised for Burns in South Africa, is likely to have to fill Root’s spot at No. 4.

“The first thing to say is to look at the player and look at the team. England have come off the back off three consecutive Test match victories, a 3-1 victory in South Africa. There is also clearly an emerging Test plan by Chris Silverwood and Joe Root, supported by the selectors, about how they are setting up the team. There has been a real emphasis on solidity at the top of the order and getting first-innings runs. Enough runs for the bowling attack to really have a bank of runs behind them to bowl as a unit to win games. That’s the plan.

“What we have seen is that since moving to a slight shift of plan for this winter, the England team has batted with more solidity and consistency throughout the order and Joe Denly has been a big part of that. Obviously, sometimes, the standout performances might have come lower down the order at four, five or six but the platform has been laid by the top order. What we are trying to do as selectors is to give the strongest possible options so England can execute the Test plan that they want to and that’s what we are doing.”


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