England have left Stuart Broad out of their final warm-up in Sri Lanka but captain Joe Root is still ready to lean on the veteran seamer’s experience in the first Test at Galle.
The tourists begin a four-day first-class match against a President’s XI in Colombo on Thursday and their selection represents a firm nod towards their preferred team for the two-match series.
Broad was the only surprise absentee but Root offered a strong indication that the 33-year-old – who has the small matter of 138 caps and 485 wickets to his name – was merely being held in reserve while Chris Woakes and Sam Curran battled for one place in the series opener.
With James Anderson, the only man ahead of Broad on England’s all-time wicket-taker list, left at home after recent injury problems it seems highly unlikely his long-term partner will also be overlooked.
“You look at someone like Stuart and he’s bowled a lot this winter so (it’s about) managing his workload. He knows what he’s got to do to get ready for the game,” said Root.
“All options are still on the table but you look at his experience, the amount of left-handers they’ve got in their team, his knowledge of these conditions… that could be very valuable.
“I think he played his first game out here in 2007, so he’s had plenty of trips over here. He knows how the surfaces play and how to get the best out of them with his style of bowling.”
Slow left-armer Jack Leach has been cleared to play after calf trouble meaning leg-spinner Matt Parkinson sits out despite taking four wickets in the first tour match, while Keaton Jennings, Ben Foakes and the uncapped Saqib Mahmood also miss out.
Mahmood is the quickest bowler in the squad and has caught the eye in the nets but it looks as though Woakes and Curran will go head to head for the seam-bowling all-rounder’s slot.
📰 Our team for our first class match against a Sri Lanka Board President's XI starting tomorrow in Colombo.— England Cricket (@englandcricket) March 11, 2020
🏴🏏 Sibley, Crawley, Denly, Root, Stokes, Pope, Buttler, Curran, Woakes, Bess, Leach. #SLvENG pic.twitter.com/bsU3YJKkaj
“In a tour game you want a bit of inter-squad rivalry and competition for places keeping everyone hungry and making sure that no one gets lazy,” Root explained.
“Ideally that’s what comes from this – it gives that extra bit of edge.”
Leach’s fitness will be monitored closely throughout the four-day fixture and there is a possibility Root and Joe Denly will take on extra duties with the ball in order not to overload their number one spinner as he completes his recovery.
“Jack and the medical staff have all been quite involved in making sure that he peaks for that first Test,” said Root.
“When you’re coming back from injury there’s always an element of risk. You can never really replicate playing Test cricket but this game will give us a good insight into where he’s actually at.”
As for Jennings and Foakes, who were both major contributors to a 3-0 win on these shores less than 18 months ago, Root suggested past performances may count for less than future planning.
“They performed extremely well out here last time round, both very good players in these conditions, and that’s why they’re on tour,” he explained.
“But we’ve got a very clear way of how we are trying to set this team up long-term as well. We’ve got a responsibility to try and do everything we can to try to win these two games, but also to look at this team, how does it look across all conditions and everywhere we go in the world?
“It’s an opportunity for other guys to also put in performances like they did last time.”
Day one of the match coincides with the release of ‘The Test’ on Amazon Prime, an eight-part fly-on-the-wall documentary on the Australia side, which features both the World Cup in England and the subsequent Ashes series.
Whether England’s players will be tuning in or not remains to be seen, with Root adopting a sceptical tone on the subject and professing a personal preference for Breaking Bad spin-off ‘Better Call Saul’.
“I don’t whether there was a lot of editorial control (by Cricket Australia) but I’m not sure you get the full story,” he said.
“I’m not sure if we’ve been offered (similar deals) before or not. We don’t do anything we shouldn’t do, so it shouldn’t be a problem, but you don’t want guys to not be themselves, or feel they can’t express themselves freely in the dressing-room environment, that’s the balance you’d have to weigh up.”