The new era starts here for England’s cricket team, with Thursday’s announcement of their squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka including three players who could all make their debuts and one who has not played international cricket’s longest form for seven years.
It could be said that England’s new era has been underway for a little while now, with the recent one-day international series having concluded in a chastening but somewhat encouraging 3-2 defeat for the hosts.
In addition, they will be without another middle order stalwart in Jonathan Trott and may at some point in the near future have to accept that his international career is over due to the stress-related illness that forced him home from Australia this winter.
As such, with these three key performers all unavailable, England’s new era in Tests begins in earnest as they look to move back to the top of the ICC world rankings and rebuild their side.
That rebuilding must begin immediately and starts with Ian Bell being placed into a senior role in England’s middle order.
Now in his 11th season in international cricket, Bell will suddenly take on the mantle of senior batsman and must accept that responsibility to help his country move forward.
Whether he is selected to play at No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, the Warwickshire man must continue to produce runs in bulk to take the pressure off his less experienced colleagues.
If Bell can find a way to rediscover last summer’s form that brought him 562 runs at an average of 62.44 against Australia, it will make the post-Pietersen and Trott era at least a little easier.
Around Bell, England’s rebuilding will focus mainly on their batting and the inclusion of some inexperienced players who will be required to assert themselves on international cricket quickly.
Joe Root has been shunted all over the batting order since making his international debut, batting as low as No. 6 then being promoted to open, all without truly finding a consistent role.
If he is to fulfil his potential, England must define his position within the team and stick with it, reasoning that once he has a settled place in the order he will likely be around international cricket for at least another decade.
Alongside him, Gary Ballance is another Yorkshire player who has scored a glut of runs in the County Championship, and if he is thought of as a long-term option he will need time, too.
At 24 years old, he also has plenty of time to be a real force in international cricket if he is able to hit regular and consistent runs from the middle order.
Selected at No. 3 and No. 4 in the recent ODI series, Ballance and Root have the potential to form another great middle-order partnership for England like that of Pietersen and Trott or Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain in years past.
And, if Ben Stokes can shake off his recent injury problems and place himself back in the reckoning after an impressive winter, those five youngsters could all be a key part of England’s future.
Another aspect of the batting department that will be helpful to have secure as England rebuild is their second opening slot next to captain Alastair Cook.
The signs look positive for the right-hander, who has already scored 517 runs in the County Championship and showed few signs of slowing down.
If he can assert himself against Sri Lanka and make that position his own, England will be in a good position to establish a solid opening pair that will be together for years to come, something they have lacked since the retirement of Andrew Strauss.
Finally, a spinner will be required to at least attempt to fill Swann’s shoes, especially when England tour the subcontinent this winter for the return series against the Sri Lankans.
Given that conditions at home will likely be most favourable to their seamers, England’s selectors have plenty of time to evaluate all the options available before making a decision.
Having James Tredwell as a potential spinner in Tests is helpful, as he is experienced, consistent and a proven leader.
If Tredwell takes on a mentor role to help the likes of Simon Kerrigan, Scott Borthwick and Danny Briggs, as well as advancing his own claims, England will be in a good position in the spin department.
As befits a team in transition, many of England’s options are raw, inexperienced and largely untested at the international level.
However, if they are able to transition in some new players to fill the considerable voids left by Pietersen and Swann, and do so effectively, it could usher in a new era of success for the team.
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