The Cricketer
Owen Riley Owen Riley

ENGLAND V SOUTH AFRICA: LORD'S PREVIEW

Joe Root to make captaincy debut at Lord's

Remember this? Red ball, white garments, long summer days. ‘Test cricket’ they call it. It will have been 219 days since Alastair Cook last left the field as England’s Test captain, after a shellacking at Chennai. On Thursday he will take to the field as nothing more than England’s all-time leading run-scorer.

While football fans cry into their Pukka Pies at the prospect of six weeks without league football, the summer serves up plethora of sporting brilliance to feast upon. None more special than the Lord’s Test.

Wiry fellows with carbon-fibre hamstrings are traversing across western Europe on space bikes for frankly ludicrous periods of time. The winner pours blood, sweat and tears into scaling mountains, crossing Luxembourg in a day, and receives a lurid new t-shirt for his troubles. Closer to home, over in SW19, 54,250 furry yellow orbs will be slapped around for the next two weeks. Roger Federer the winner will pick up the Gentleman's Singles Trophy, the Ladies' Singles champion, the Rosewater Dish. The runner-up gets a spankingly shiny new baking tray. Cricket too, returns to the form where endurance and grit takes centre stage. Up for grabs, the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy.

South African touring teams have made a habit of seeing off England captains, this summer they will witness the bedding in of a new man at the helm. Unless Faf and co somehow coerce Joe into throttling one of Her Majesty’s corgis in front of an aghast Lord’s crowd, it is highly unlikely the Proteas’ guillotine – reserved for England skippers – will fall this summer.

Root will make his captaincy debut against another taking charge of his first Test. Dean Elgar will deputise for du Plessis who will miss the Lord’s Test following the birth of his child. Two new captains, no Faf, no AB, no Dale Steyn, Gary Ballance is back, Haseeb Hameed misses the cut, plenty of talking points ahead of Thursday…

Opening up

I’ve looked under chairs, I’ve looked under tables… but Alastair Cook’s long-term opening partner is still yet to be found, as The Who famously sang.

Nick Compton, Joe Root, Sam Robson, Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali, Alex Hales and Ben Duckett all came and went before Hameed was unearthed. In the Lancashire opener it seemed, at last, as though England had found the man to partner Alastair Cook in his twilight years.

Hameed was vastly impressive in India, displaying a temperament that belied his years. He averaged 43.80 in three Tests before a fractured finger ruled him out of the series. But 214 runs at 19.45 this summer - without registering a half-century in 12 Championship innings - has convinced the selectors to look elsewhere for now.

And so Hameed’s replacement in India, Keaton Jennings, gets the nod. The Durham opener has not replicated last summer’s form either, with 399 runs at 36.27, but a century at Mumbai on debut, and a fifty at Chennai has earned Jennings the chance to stake his claim. With the likes of Sam Robson and Mark Stoneman scoring heavily, Jennings will need to hit the ground running to secure a place on the plane to Australia.

Keaton Jennings looks set to open with Alastair Cook

The fourth seamer 

Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes are certainties to play when fit, while Jake Ball and Chris Woakes’ are both injured. The final place in the team looks set to fall to either Toby Roland-Jones or Mark Wood. It is likely both will feature at some stage across the summer’s seven Tests, with rest, restoration and rotation playing a part with the winter in mind.

Roland-Jones’ performances for Middlesex have on kept him on the England radar, they might be tempted to offer him his first Test cap on home soil.

Meanwhile Wood has continued to impress in white-ball cricket. Speaking to Jos Buttler last week, the wicketkeeper-batsman reckons Wood is even better with the red ball. He’ll surely have a chance to impress over the course of the summer.

Insert Ballance/Balance pun here

The Yorkshire captain has been in rare form, with 815 runs at 101.88 proving too hard to ignore.

The question is, where will he bat? He has been stationed at No.4 for his county, a position he could find himself occupying for England depending on whether it is decided Root will stay at No.3. 

Do England keep the captain at No.3, or give him some breathing space at No.4, with Ballance tasked with coming in at first drop?

Ballance averages 39.25 in Test cricket

Predictions

We picked our preferred XIs before the squad was announced, so not to be swayed by who the men at the top deemed worthy...

Huw Turbervill: England to win 2-1.

Bairstow is England’s best bat by some way, followed by Root. There will be lots of squad rotation, no seamer plays more than three games - Jake Ball and Chris Woakes back towards the end of the series. Rabada will win one Test for South Africa.

My XI: Cook, Hameed (out of sheer stubbornness) - but Ballance will be in, Jennings, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Moeen, Broad, Anderson, Wood, Rashid. 

You could have a pretty strong 2nd XI too...

Second XI: Robson, Stoneman, Duckett, Hameed, Westley, Buttler, Foakes, T Curran, Roland-Jones, Footitt, Crane.

James Coyne

Though it pains me to say it, Hameed has played his way out of the side. Let him have time to recover his form before throwing him in to face Rabada and the like.

Westley deserves his chance, after years of quietly banging on the door from Division 2. Looks class.

Ballance, comes in instead, though it remains to be seen if his technique can combat high-class pace bowling at the stumps.

Tempted to bring Rashid into the side, but then England are always likely to stick with Ali’s more reliable offies. England will need at least four quicks, with Anderson, Broad and Wood all returning from injuries.

My XI: Robson, Cook, Jennings, Root*, Westley, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali, Broad / Roland-Jones (in case of injury), Wood, Anderson.

Dean Elgar will captain in du Plessis' absence

Owen Riley: England to win 2-0.

There was a pretty general consensus that Hameed should be dropped, and his form has undoubtedly taken a dip. But he looked so readymade for the job in India, I would have given him a couple of Tests in a hope that with the lions on his chest, and a change of scenery would inspire him to rediscover some form. 

As for Ballance, perhaps a case of dropped too soon, recalled too soon? I would have given him more time first time around. But once he was out of the team, I wouldn’t have recalled him as soon as he was. But with a weight of runs for Yorkshire, he deserves an extended run this summer to see if he can reproduce those early Test numbers.

My XI: Cook, Hameed, Jennings, Root, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen, Broad, Wood, Anderson.

Squads

England: Joe Root*, Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow†, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Liam Dawson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson, Toby Roland-Jones.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis* (out of the Lord’s Test), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock†, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier, Andile Phehlukwayo, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.

Fixtures

First Test: 6-10 July, Lord's

Second Test: 14-18 July, Trent Bridge

Third Test: 27-31 July, The Oval

Fourth Test: 4-8 August, Old Trafford

Weather

There's a threat of storms on Thursday, set to be dry Friday onwards: http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/