SPORT

England shake up Test squad for West Indies series

Gus Atkinson

England have unveiled a radical shake-up of their Test side, axeing Jonny Bairstow, Ben Foakes and Jack Leach, and calling up three uncapped players.

Wicketkeeper-batter Jamie Smith is joined by two new seamers, Gus Atkinson and Dillon Pennington, for the forthcoming series against the West Indies, while spinner Shoaib Bashir has been preferred to his Somerset team-mate Leach in a changing of the guard.

In what appears to a watershed moment for the team, and the first stage of Bazball 2.0, head coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have carried out major surgery on their squad.

Having already decided to call time on the illustrious career of record wicket-taker James Anderson after the first Test at Lord’s, a hard call taken with one eye trained firmly on rebuilding the team for the 2025/26 Ashes, they have now gone even further.

Bairstow is the most high-profile casualty, dropped on exactly 100 caps, with the highly-rated Smith beating off a crowded field to take the keeper’s spot. Smith, who made his ODI bow against Ireland last September, has long been one of the most exciting prospects in the domestic game but his selection behind the stumps will attract scrutiny given he is not even first-choice gloveman for his county.

Foakes does that job for the Brown Caps, and also featured in all five games of the winter tour in India, but he has also been cut. A 4-1 defeat in that series seems to have been a catalyst for change, with Bairstow’s top score of 38 in 10 innings placing him in the firing line.

Durham’s Ollie Robinson, another attack-minded keeper who averages 82 in the Division One for Durham this season, can consider himself unlucky.

The selection panel, chaired by director of cricket Rob Key, have also had to restructure the bowling group. With Stuart Broad retiring at the end of last summer and Anderson following close behind, they need to fill the gap left by two greats who boast a combined 1,304 Test wickets.

Chris Woakes, returning for the first time since being named player of the series in last summer’s Ashes, will take on the mantle of leader of the attack in the short term, but the real interest is in the fresher faces.

The field has been thinned by fitness problems with the likes of Sam Cook, Josh Tongue, Jamie Overton and Saqib Mahmood, but Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson has still been overlooked.

He has had several warning shots about his fitness and conditioning, and faces a long road back after an unimpressive stint in India and the ignominy of being hit for a record 43 in an over by Leicestershire’s Louis Kimber earlier this week.

Instead, England go back to Durham’s Matthew Potts, a gutsy seamer who made a strong start to his England career in 2022 and has 23 wickets at 29.26 in his six caps. Atkinson, who impressed with his pace last year and was an unused squad member in India, steps up as does Nottinghamshire’s Pennington.

Tipped as one to watch by Key earlier this year, he has progressed well since moving to Trent Bridge this season.

The decision to back 20-year-old off-spinner Bashir over Leach is perhaps surprising. Stokes has shown great loyalty to the left-armer, but it was his injury that allowed Bashir to earn a fast-track debut in India. He took 17 wickets in three Tests, including five-fors in Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Even so, he has not overtaken Leach at Taunton and was forced to go out on loan to Worcestershire in June seeking first-team cricket. Having been unable to displace Leach in the Somerset side, he has been handed his Test shirt instead.

England squad for the first two Tests against the West Indies: B Stokes (c), J Anderson (first Test only), G Atkinson, S Bashir, H Brook, Z Crawley, B Duckett, D Lawrence, D Pennington, O Pope, M Potts, J Root, J Smith, C Woakes.

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