How Yorkshire trio are helping give England Test selectors welcome headache – Chris Waters

HEADACHES are never a pleasant experience unless, of course, you happen to be a sports coach with an abundance of players from which to choose.

Captain Joe Root is a shoo-in for England - his batting alone would get hik in - while Yorkshire team-mate Dom Bess, right, is pushing hard to be the team's No spinner. Picture: Jon Super/NMC Pool/PA.

“It’s a nice headache to have,” they invariably say whenever they are asked how they plan to whittle down their squad into a final XI for a forthcoming game.

“I’d much rather have that problem than for it to be the other way round…”

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And so on and so forth.

TOP FIVE: Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow is among the top five Test batsmen for England, argues Chris Waters. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Those charged with choosing the England cricket team must presently be experiencing such happy headaches, given that there are more viable candidates than available spaces.

In Sri Lanka, where England are targeting a 2-0 whitewash in the second Test match that was due to start in Galle this morning, such headaches have been temporarily suspended due to the fact that England are currently without six key players – Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes.

But when all are available again following their various absences through injury, illness, rest or paternity leave, those happy headaches will be back in force with no need to reach for the paracetamol and ibuprofen.

At that stage, England’s think-tank will have some exceedingly tough decisions to make – 
especially in the batting department.

LEADING MAN: England’s Ben Stokes is one the Test line-ups most prolific batsmen. Picture: Jon Super/NMC Pool/PA Wire.

The view of this keyboard selector, mercifully unaccountable, is that a good starting point is to identify your best players and to work back from there.

Granted, you then have to take into account such things as conditions, schedules, form and fitness, but the best players tend to stand out more often than not – just as they do in England’s case.

Without knowing how the second Test match will unfold, I would say that England’s best five batsmen are Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Ollie Pope and Rory Burns.

The jury – consisting solely of this keyboard selector – is still out on Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence, who are still making their way at the highest level but have all shown glimpses of their quality thus far.

So, again with the caveat of not knowing what may happen in the present game, a sensible starting point going forward would be the top-five mentioned plus one of Sibley, Crawley and Lawrence.

England would clearly need to find someone to open with Burns if Sibley and Crawley did not make this cut, but Bairstow has been moved around so often that they would surely promote the Yorkshire star and push Pope up to No 3.

To these eyes, Bairstow simply has to play as one of the top-three batsmen in the England team.

A preference would be to have him keeping wicket as well in place of Jos Buttler, but that is obviously no longer the way that the selectors are thinking.

Bowling-wise, James Anderson and Stuart Broad remain an evergreen partnership and Archer the exciting new man in town.

Woakes, Mark Wood, Olly Stone and Sam Curran are among the pace bowlers affording further options, while Moeen, Jack Leach and Yorkshire’s Dom Bess are the spinners in prime position.

Spin, of course, is England’s weakest link – along with a still not completely settled opening partnership with the bat.

That is hardly a surprise given that the English system is entirely set-up to dissuade spinners, both in terms of the pitches prepared and the marginalisation/reduction of the County Championship.

That Leach and Bess rose to prominence at Somerset is singularly unstartling given that Taunton has seen the most wickets fall to spin in recent times.

A graphic on the website ESPNcricinfo recently revealed that, since 2016, there have been 400 wickets that have gone to spinners at Taunton in first-class county cricket, with the next highest venues (Chelmsford 241 and Edgbaston 239) a long way adrift.

For their part in this subterfuge, Somerset have been slapped with a points deduction and Essex accused of treading a very thin line when it comes to punishment for spin-friendly surfaces.

Apparently, it’s absolutely fine to produce pitches that help dibbly-dobbly seamers who will never play international cricket, but a capital offence to produce ones that assist the slow men.

England’s greatest challenge overseas is how to get wickets on good pitches in countries such as India and Australia, a challenge that they will get plenty of experience of in 2021. Pace and spin are vital commodities, and with England’s finest spinner, Adil Rashid, having seemingly played his last Test, it is not an easy challenge to surmount.

Batting-wise, however, England are apparently headed in the right direction. They have some fine young players, some wise old hands, and enough people waiting in the wings to keep everyone on their toes.

Plenty of happy headaches, then, in the weeks and months ahead.

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