England are preparing to unleash Jofra Archer on the Ashes after fast-tracking the paceman into a Test squad that also sees the return of Ben Stokes as vice-captain.
The twin decisions represent a ringing endorsement for two men who arguably did more than anyone to deliver England’s historic World Cup final triumph over New Zealand earlier this month, stepping up with bat and ball in an unprecedented super over finish.
Archer, who has yet to play at Test level, was not expected to take on Australia until later in the series due to a side strain picked up during the tournament but returned to action for Sussex on Friday night and will join up with the team at Edgbaston next week.
Whether or not he takes the field on Thursday remains to be seen – with the selection panel naming an expanded group of 14 including a host of pace bowling options – but the temptation will surely be strong following his star-making performances over recent months.
The 24-year-old considers himself better with red ball than white – no mean feat after taking 20 wickets at 23.05 in the World Cup – and comfortably tops 90mph on a regular basis. His performance in claiming two for 21 on his comeback against Surrey suggest his recent break in Barbados has done little to dull his threat.
Stokes, meanwhile, returns to the leadership role he was stripped of following his part in a late-night brawl in September 2017. He missed that winter’s Ashes series as a result before being cleared on a charge of affray in Bristol Crown Court last summer.
He has long enjoyed the full support of his team-mates and coaching staff and was quite brilliant in England’s World Cup campaign, culminating in his man-of-the-match performance in the final. Being handed the chance to reclaim his post as Joe Root’s deputy, a role previously taken by Jos Buttler, effectively closes a loop that opened almost two years ago outside Mbargo nightclub.
His appointment was ratified by ECB chairman Colin Graves following the recommendations of Ashley Giles, managing director of men’s cricket, and chief executive Tom Harrison.
Giles said of the player: “Ben is highly respected within the team environment. He is a natural leader and has a great understanding of the game. He will offer tremendous support to Joe Root as part of the senior playing group.
“Over the past 18 months, he has come a long way and has shown a great degree of maturity on and off the field. I have no doubts that the added responsibility will also help him to continue his rise as a world class all-rounder in the Test arena.”
Ten of the 11 players who defeated Ireland in a rollercoaster Test at Lord’s this week are included, joined by Stokes, Archer, Buttler and James Anderson, who were all rested for that match.
Anderson has been recovering from a calf injury suffered on duty for Lancashire but England have indicated that he is progressing well and expect their record wicket taker to be ready for action.
Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad used the opportunity to press hard for inclusion in Birmingham, taking six for 17 and four for 19 respectively as the Irish were demolished for just 38 on Friday, with Olly Stone and left-armer Sam Curran completing the array of pace options.
Jack Leach is unfortunate to miss out entirely following his match-winning knock of 92 as nightwatchman in a low-scoring game – his left-arm spin was considered surplus to requirements with Moeen Ali unmoved as the first-choice slow bowler.
Instead England will hope an unproven top three of Rory Burns, Jason Roy and Joe Denly have learned from the application Leach showed in an unfamiliar role. The latter is not involved in Somerset’s Vitality T20 Blast squad and will continue to train with England.
National selector Ed Smith said:“Though it is unusual to select a squad of 14 for a home Test, there are compelling reasons to do so here. Several bowlers are recovering from injuries or niggles.
“In addition, some bowlers who played in the World Cup are being closely monitored to assess their preparation for Test match cricket.
“The wider circumstances – a successful home World Cup campaign followed so quickly by a home Ashes series – are unprecedented. It feels sensible to select an expanded squad and leave a number of bowling options open for the final team selection.”
England begin their Test preparations with an optional training session on Monday at Edgbaston.