England squad for South Africa Tests analysis - Anderson, Wood & Bairstow's return, Moeen's unavailability and more
There is a visible change in England's strategy post Ashes, with more focus on Test cricket. Skipper Joe Root has time and again advocated for attritional cricket that has been missing from the English outfit.
The team squad for the four-match Test tour of South Africa maintains continuity in this thought flow despite the series defeat in New Zealand.
The weight on Anderson's calf
Jimmy Anderson has played eight Tests in South Africa and surprisingly averages an uncharacteristic 39.92, having picked up 25 wickets from 8 matches. On his last tour of the country in 2015-16 also, he only managed 7 wickets from 3 Tests.
That said, Anderson remains England's premier Test bowler and the team would be hoping that his calf holds up well. It was frustrating to see Anderson play his first Test match in 6 months against Australia in Birmingham, only to limp off after four overs, with a resurfaced calf injury. Anderson tried but he could not return for the Ashes and the fans were robbed of the biggest face off of the series, between him and Steven Smith.
The veteran pacer is currently part of a training camp in the Protea den and is expected to start for England in the first Test.
Bairstow's recall along expected lines
Jonny Bairstow is one of those blokes who needs to be ticked off to extract his best. Remember his century against Sri Lanka in the last Test of the tour in 2018. His best batting in the World Cup also came after he copped flak for his statements in the media.
Even when Bairstow was dropped for the New Zealand series initially, England chief selector Ed Smith was hopeful of his comeback: "This feels like an opportunity for Jonny to reset. I think he'll come back stronger from this. He does drop out of the Test squad for these two Tests in New Zealand, which are not part of the World Test Championship, and I predict he'll come back stronger for having had a bit of time away from the Test set-up."
However, his returns in Test cricket have not been great, with him averaging just over 25 since the beginning of 2018. Bairstow is too good a player to miss out repeatedly. It seems unlikely though that he will make the playing XI right away, with all slots already full.
New look batting line-up
England finally seem to be settling down with proper Test batsmen. They have introduced Dominic Sibley with Rory Burns at the top of the order and despite his failures in New Zealand, Sibley is expected to get a few more opportunities.
Joe Denly is looking good at one drop with Joe Root back at his preferred position at number 4. Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler form the lower-middle order which makes for a solid top seven.
England are gradually beginning to rebuild on the art of batting for long phases again. Once they succeed in doing it, more often than they are at the moment, their Test fortunes are bound to change.
Mark Wood in for Saqib Mahmood
Mark Wood returns to international cricket after the World Cup following his side injury. His pace and attacking instinct make him a handy option in South African conditions. Wood has done a decent job in the 13 Test matches he has played, with six wickets in the last Test that he played, in Gros Islet against West Indies.
"It is not predicted that Mark will be available for selection for the earliest matches. However, he will travel with the team and continue his rehab work with the medical staff on tour.
"There is no exact date given for his return, but the medical team is working towards him becoming fully available for selection during the tour. With that in mind, and given the extended period that James and Mark have had on the sidelines due to injury, it was sensible to have a 17-man squad." Ed Smith said while announcing the squad.
However, Wood's inclusion is a bit hard on Lancashire quick Saqib Mahmood who did not get an opportunity in New Zealand with the red ball and has now been dropped.
Moeen Ali's curious case
From what one has seen of Jack Leach in Test cricket, he has not inspired enough confidence to sustain a spot at the international level. Moeen Ali,when on song, certainly seems like a better spin option for England and could have played a useful role for them in South Africa.
With Leach in the side, the team will consider going for an all-pace attack whenever possible.
Ali had requested for a break from Test cricket during the last summer but still remains unavailable for selection. While he is featuring in short-format leagues across the world, one can only hope that he is in a good frame of mind and recovers well for the England tour of Sri Lanka in March 2020.
England Test squad - Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Matthew Parkinson, Ollie Pope, Dominic Sibley, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
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