Deputising England captain Ben Stokes and his temporary vice-captain Jos Buttler will lead two teams in an intra-squad match to be played at the Ageas Bowl as preparation for the first Test against West Indies.
The two-innings match, which begins on Wednesday and will last three days will feature 27 of the 30-man group currently living and training at the biosecure ground and provide the first bit of competitive action any English cricket has had this summer. It will also be available to watch online via ecb.co.uk.
It will provide them with much-needed match practice and also inform the decisions of head coach Chris Silverwood and the selectors ahead of Saturday when an official squad of around 22 players will be announced for the first Test.
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Joe Root will not be taking part as he is due to leave the ground on Wednesday afternoon to be with his wife, Carrie, who is expecting their second child later this week. The need to isolate for seven days after returning for hospital means he will be unable to join the bubble for the Test, and will instead reconvene with the squad at Emirates Old Trafford for the final two Tests. Amar Virdi and Jamie Overton, both fit, were the other two players who will not take part in the practice match.
The absence of Root will present an opportunity for the likes of Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, and the uncapped Dan Lawrence. Crawley and Bairstow are lining up for Team Stokes, while Lawrence is in the middle order for Team Buttler.
There is also a decision to be made on the make-up of the pace attack, along with the designated spinner with Moeen Ali and Jack Leach returning to challenge off-spinner Dom Bess, who had settled into the role nicely in South Africa.
With the match being an unusual 13 vs 14, there will be a few substitutes throughout. But Silverwood is keen to keep the match as regular and competitive as possible.
“We will play as many as we can without going OTT,” he said. “Obviously, we want to get a certain amount of workload into certain people. We are going to go more than eleven but be sensible as well. Try and get as much into what we may see as a core group as possible.”
There will be no stoking of tensions. Nor will the two teams spend time apart over the next three days to exacerbate any sense of rivalry. The last month of training and the last week of being holed up with one another – in a socially-distanced manner – has seen the players grow closer as a larger collective.
“Off the field they’ll be as a group. We tend to look at ourselves as one cricketing family behind these closed doors down here. I’d be reluctant to separate the two groups from that point of view but certainly on the field I expect hard cricket out there. I expect that’s what we’ll get out there.
“We have got people coming back into this bubble very fit from a physical point of view and very motivated. There’s been some very good skills on show as well so it should be a very good game of cricket.”
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