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NEW national selector Ed Smith faces an immediate age-old conundrum today of whether to stick or twist when he picks his first England Test squad.
He must make his choice at Lord’s this morning and then announce the upshot at 3pm against a backdrop of varied predictions but an apparent consensus that he will not be going too left field yet.
Before his own unexpected appointment just last month, Smith developed a reputation through his playing and then press and broadcast days as an erudite free-thinker.
The probability is therefore that a Cambridge graduate who won three Test caps at the height of his 12-year career with Kent and then Middlesex will not be averse to springing a surprise or two at some point in his new guise.
There are suggestions already that he and fellow selectors Angus Fraser and Mick Newell, who are retained for Smith’s first set-piece, may react to the winter’s struggles in Australia and New Zealand by shuffling the pack just a little for Joe Root.
If there is to be any tinkering for the two-Test series against Pakistan, one high-profile position — vexed for almost six years now since Andrew Strauss retired on his path to becoming England and Wales Cricket Board director — is an obvious starting point.
Alastair Cook is already up to his 12th opening partner since 2012 and of all the changes England may make at this stage Mark Stoneman’s place appears most vulnerable.
It appeared at the end of a winless winter that both Stoneman and James Vince at No 3 had done just enough, along with Dawid Malan deeper in the middle order, to be given at least one more opportunity to prove themselves.
While Vince and Malan have started the new domestic season well enough, Stoneman has been worryingly short of reassuring championship runs for Surrey.
Of the plausible alternatives, the stars are aligning best for Nick Gubbins on the back of 107 and 99 in his last two championship innings.
Another left-handed opener to accompany Cook — like Strauss via Radley and Middlesex but with a stop-off at Leeds-Bradford MCCU en route — the time may be right for the 24-year-old to make his Test debut on his home ground next week.
Further down the list, several out-of-the-box ideas have been floated, including a debut for Ben Foakes to keep wicket and allow Jonny Bairstow to move up the order unencumbered, with several uncapped options such as Worcestershire’s rising star Joe Clarke also in the conversation alongside Liam Livingstone as an extra batsman in an anticipated 13-man squad.
It is most likely nonetheless that, with the possible exception of Gubbins for Stoneman, England will alter little next week from the team which drew the last Test in Christchurch.
Chris Woakes, who was dropped there, and Mark Wood should both be in the final equation if conditions are seam-friendly.
Jack Leach’s promising debut with bat as well as ball keeps him ahead of fellow finger spinner Moeen Ali, as long as the slow left-armer is not compromised by a hand injury suffered on Somerset duty.
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