Gary Ballance suffered a broken finger in the second Test against South Africa and has not played since © AFP
A lack of first-class cricket could be hampering England’s plans ahead of the first Investec Test against West Indies.
With the domestic schedule currently dominated by the white-ball game – there is only one round of County Championship cricket scheduled after the first week of July and the last week of August – the likes of Chris Woakes and Gary Ballance are struggling to find the game-time required to prove their fitness ahead of the day-night Test at Edgbaston which starts on August 17.
While Woakes has returned to first-class cricket in the current round of Championship matches – his Warwickshire side are playing Middlesex at Lord’s – it appears he is unlikely to gain the amount of overs required to prove his preparedness for Test cricket before the England squad is selected and announced this Friday. Woakes sustained a side strain at the start of England’s Champions Trophy campaign in June.
Ballance, meanwhile, was not deemed ready to return for Yorkshire in their Championship match against Essex and will not have another opportunity to play first-class cricket until August 28. He sustained a broken finger in the Trent Bridge Test.
The idea of playing limited-overs cricket in a block was favoured by the players and coaches as they believed the opportunity to focus on the skills prevalent in one form of the game would help improve the standard. The downside of that is there is very little red-ball cricket played in July and August, which reduces players’ ability to find form or fitness for Test cricket.
No date has yet been set for Mark Wood‘s return. He has not featured in the last two Tests against South Africa after sustaining a bruised left heel earlier in the series. While the England management insist the injury is unrelated to the ankle problems that have necessitated three bouts of surgery (and say there are no plans to operate this time), they are determined to take no risks with his long-term recovery. It may well be that he requires custom-made bowling boots to provide his left foot and ankle increased protection before he returns.
All this means that Wood, Woakes and Ballance will probably not be considered for selection until at least the second Test against West Indies at Headingley, starting on August 25. With the England selectors expected to stick with Tom Westley and Dawid Malan, the only change likely for Edgbaston is at the top of the order where Keaton Jennings may well be dropped.
That means that either Nick Gubbins of Middlesex or Mark Stoneman of Surrey is set to become Alastair Cook’s 12th opening partner in Test cricket since the retirement of Andrew Strauss at the end of the 2012 English season.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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