Leach injury throws spanner in the works for Ed Smith
Nick Gubbins may be in line for a Test debut as Alastair Cook’s latest opening partner
Jack Leach’s broken thumb adds an extra complication to the age-old conundrum which was already facing new national selector Ed Smith when he picks his first Test squad.
Leach was injured batting in the Taunton nets on the eve of Tuesday’s selection meeting and announcement at Lord’s of the squad to face Pakistan there next week.
With few other plausible spin-bowling contenders, the return of Moeen Ali – dropped to allow Leach’s debut in Christchurch two months ago – is the obvious solution.
Before the late drama, Smith’s issue appeared merely to be whether to stick or twist at the start of his tenure – against a backdrop of varied predictions but an apparent consensus that he will not be going too left-field just yet.
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 cap 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.
If there is to be any tinkering for the two-Test series against Pakistan, an opening partner for Alastair Cook is an obvious starting point.
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 number three 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, however, Stoneman has been worryingly short of championship runs for Surrey.
Of the alternatives, stars are aligning best for Nick Gubbins on the back of 107 and 99 in his last two championship innings.
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 too 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, after Leach’s misfortune, England will alter as little as possible from the team which drew the last Test in Christchurch.
Chris Woakes, also dropped there, and Mark Wood should both be in the final equation ahead of fellow seamer Craig Overton.
Possible England Test squad: JE Root (captain), AN Cook, NRT Gubbins, JM Vince, DJ Malan, BA Stokes, JM Bairstow (wkt), CR Woakes, MM Ali, SCJ Broad, JM Anderson, MA Wood, JM Clarke.