Stuart Broad may find himself the odd man out as England search for a winning formula in Sri Lanka, with captain Joe Root admitting there is “a big call” to make ahead of the first Test.
Broad’s pace partnership with James Anderson is the most prolific in the history of the game and the pair occupy the top two places in England’s own wicket-taking hall of fame.
We’ve been away from home a number of times now and struggled so finding a different formula – with him or without him – I don’t think it weakens him as a player or shows where his game is going.England captain, Joe Root
But after a sequence of 10 away Tests without a win – their previous success coming in Bangladesh in October 2016 – a bold selection could be in the offing.
The tourists will be keen to get all three of their spinners into the XI when the series begins on a turning track in Galle next Tuesday, while Anderson’s unflinching consistency makes him a near certainty.
With Ben Stokes on hand as an all-rounder, Broad, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Olly Stone look to be vying for one shirt.
There are four days of warm-up cricket in Colombo this week, split into two matches, and by the time they are over Broad could be dropped for the first time since Kolkata in December 2012.
“He’s definitely got an opportunity to play,” said Root, suggesting Broad’s seniority no longer placed him ahead of the pack.
“It’s the same as the rest of the guys, the next four days are a great opportunity to put a case forward. We’ve got a bit of time now to work out what that will be and when we get to Galle we’ll make a big call on that.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘changing of the guard’ and I wouldn’t say he’s in a weaker position than he has been previously.
“But we’ve been away from home a number of times now and struggled so finding a different formula – with him or without him – I don’t think it weakens him as a player or shows where his game is going.”
The retirement of Alastair Cook at the end of the summer means the final England side will already have a different look, while the ankle injury afflicting Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow could rob them of another experienced campaigner.
The wicketkeeper-batsman is still struggling with the ankle ligament injury he suffered playing football during a training session during the one-day series and is being assessed “day by day”.
All indications are that he is a long shot to start the series, with England then deciding whether to shift the gloves to limited-overs gloveman Jos Buttler or pick the newly-arrived Ben Foakes, summoned as cover and rated as the best wicketkeeper on the county circuit.
“I think with Jonny we’ve got to be quite realistic,” said Root.
“Fielding in these conditions, this heat, for long periods of time could put it under a lot of stress and making sure he’s absolutely ready to go will be really important.
Ultimately it’s about getting him 100 per cent ready to go, whether it be the first or second Test we’ll have to wait.”
Meanwhile, the ECB are liaising with the British High Commission about rising political tensions on the island.
President Maithripala Sirisena last week moved to remove sitting prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and install former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe’s supporters claim that is unconstitutional and local reports suggested the former Sri Lanka cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who had been serving as oil minister, was arrested yesterday following a violent clash involving protesters at his former office a day earlier.
An ECB spokesman said: “We are aware of the developments and are in constant contact with the British High Commission. We are exercising vigilance and avoiding all demonstrations or large political gatherings.”