Root’s likely preference for Ballance could shape Test line-up

Yorkshire's Joe Root will captain England in a Test for the first time next week (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire).
Yorkshire's Joe Root will captain England in a Test for the first time next week (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire).
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England will name the first Test squad of Joe Root’s captaincy reign today, with changes probable at the top of the batting order.

Yorkshire’s Root was appointed as Alastair Cook’s successor in February, but, with white-ball cricket dominating the early part of the summer, he will lead the side for the first time when the Investec Series against South Africa gets underway at Lord’s on Thursday.

At the beginning of the campaign Cook would have expected to open the batting with Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameed.

However, the 20-year-old, who made a strong impression over three Tests in India before breaking a finger, has had a torrid domestic campaign and is unlikely to be included.

Durham captain Keaton Jennings, who replaced Hameed in Mumbai and Chennai, scoring a century on debut, can expect to continue, but discussions have been had over whether he should head the innings or come in at No 3.

This depends on who the selectors choose to bolster the top order.

Surrey opener Mark Stoneman is hopeful of winning a maiden call-up, which would be just reward for county cricket’s most consistent run-scorer of the past four years and, if selected, would partner Cook.

Alternatively, Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance has elbowed his way back into the conversation and could bat at three, leaving Jennings to face the new ball.

Ballance was dropped for the second time in his career after making 24 runs in four torturous innings in Bangladesh in October and had the look of a man who would be quietly shuffled to the bottom of the pack.

But his response has been persuasive, with 815 runs in 11 championship innings for the White Rose making him the country’s second leading scorer.

He is a close friend and ally of Root, and the pair have shared important stands for club and country over the years.

There are no captain’s picks in the England set-up, but Root’s likely preference for Ballance could yet carry weight.

Elsewhere, Middlesex’s Dawid Malan has been under consideration for a Test slot, having hit an impressive 78 on his international bow, a series-clinching Twenty20 win over the Proteas in Cardiff.

At least three of the players who took the field in England’s last Test in Chennai, Cook’s curtain call, will be absent.

Jos Buttler played that game at No 7, but has managed just one first-class game this season, scoring only three runs in two knocks in this week’s day/night round, and looks increasingly likely to fall off the red-ball radar while remaining a cornerstone of the limited-overs set-up. Liam Dawson made his debut as an extra spinner but is not an option in home conditions and Jake Ball has been ruled out with a knee injury.

With Chris Woakes out injured a pace attack of James Anderson, Mark Wood and Stuart Broad, provided the latter plays in Nottinghamshire’s Royal London One-Day Cup final without aggravating a foot problem, supplemented by all-rounder Ben Stokes is likely.

Uncapped Toby Roland-Jones is favourite to be named as back-up ahead of Middlesex team-mate Steven Finn or younger prospects such as Craig Overton or Tom Curran.