Ed Smith, the former Kent and England batsman turned journalist and commentator, has been confirmed as England’s national selection. His first task will be to select a squad to face Pakistan next month. Here are some of the issues he needs to answer
Stick or twist
England were thwarted by New Zealand’s lower order in Christchurch, falling two wickets short of ending their barren run away from home. In the aftermath, there was a sense that the signs of improvement – particularly from Mark Stoneman and James Vince, who both scored half-centuries – had brought the men in the spotlight some more time. It will be interesting to see whether Smith feels the same way or whether the start of a new season is the time for a blank sheet of paper.
Find the x-factor
Mark Wood and Jack Leach were brought into the side for Christchurch in an attempt to shake up England’s attack. It nearly worked, but the reality is that England have taken 20 wickets just once in their last 12 away Tests. James Anderson remains the attack leader and Stuart Broad looked rejuvenated in New Zealand, but high on Smith’s agenda will be finding bowlers (pace and spin) who can provide a point of difference. Names suggested early season include Olly Stone and Richard Gleeson in the pace debate, but Smith’s desire to delve into analytics may throw up some interesting new faces.
Home and away
England’s home record has propped up their Test standing in recent years, but that can’t be taken for granted. There is a balance to strike between winning in the here-and-now and having an eye on the types of players who will be needed to arrest the decline overseas. For example, if a certain pace bowler or spinner is viewed as a likely starter in Sri Lanka or West Indies, then do they need to be playing this summer to find their feet in Test cricket? And, also, Smith will need to decide how far ahead to look. The next away Ashes in 2021-22 is likely to be high on the agenda. Players for that need to be identified now.
Horses for courses
With Smith’s emphasis on analytics and a more Moneyball approach to selection, could we see an evolution of the way Test squads are selected throughout a series – especially at home, where there is no restriction on who is available and limited distances to travel. Even if a certain team produces an impressive victory in one Test, does it mean they are the best XI for the next match? How deep will Smith look at conditions and opposition when selecting squads? This, of course, has to be balanced with the dangers of chopping and changing, and the instability it could bring.
If it aint broke
Rejuvenating the Test side will be Smith’s biggest selection challenge (although the T20 side has also lost some direction in the last couple of years). But the 50-over side is shaping up very nicely ahead of next year’s World Cup – an event with an importance to the English game that cannot be overstated. An era has been staked on winning that tournament on home soil. Smith is a smart man and will know what is working well, but it will be important that he doesn’t feel the need to tinker for the sake of it. Eoin Morgan and Trevor Bayliss probably already know 13 of their 15-man squad for 2019 – things would have to go badly pear-shaped for those selection meetings to stretch Smith too much.