England have named a 13-man squad for their long-awaited return to Test cricket against the West Indies next week, preferring Joe Denly to the uncapped Dan Lawrence and confirming Dom Bess as number one spinner.
Selectors met at the conclusion of a three-day internal warm-up match on Friday and settled the few remaining questions over the shape of the side that will line up at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday, as well as retaining a further nine reserve players.
Captain Joe Root was already absent from the bio-secure bubble in Southampton due to the impending birth of his second child, and a further seven players who took part in this week’s head-to-head match have been cut.
Five of the six batting slots were all but certain but there was some chance that Denly, a 34-year-old with a Test average of 30 in 14 appearances, would come under pressure from the exciting Lawrence.
The latter made a sparkling 58 in the first innings of the Team Stokes against Team Buttler clash, while Denly made a less persuasive 48, but the difference was not great enough to force a change.
Denly may yet need a score of substance to hold his spot for the rest of the series, with Root set to return for the two matches at Emirates Old Trafford later this month.
In the bowling ranks there are five strong seam options – James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes – of whom only three are likely to take the field in each match.
Bess, meanwhile, remains in possession of the slow bowling position having been comfortably the best of the five candidates from the initial training group. He was behind both Jack Leach and Moeen Ali at the start of last summer, but the former’s illness over the winter and the latter’s hiatus from red-ball cricket brought an opportunity that he grasped in South Africa and has not let go.
Leach takes his place in a strong standby list that also includes Lawrence and Sam Curran, who had a Covid-19 scare after falling ill on Wednesday night but has since tested negative.