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England have included the uncapped trio of Rory Burns, Joe Denly and Olly Stone in their Test squad for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka.
Burns is set to replace Alastair Cook, who retired from international cricket after the recent series against India, at the top of the order.
The Surrey opener has been in sublime form throughout the ongoing county season as he has scored 1,319 runs, which includes four centuries and seven fifties, in 13 matches at an average of 69.42.
Burns’ magnificent form with the bat was an instrumental reason why Surrey won their first County Championship title in 16 years.
“I think Rory Burns has impressed everyone with the consistency of his run-scoring, not just this year when he’s scored over 1300 runs and led Surrey to the title – which are both significant achievements,” national selector Ed Smith was quoted as saying by ESPNcricinfo. “It hasn’t been easy to bat this summer, as we all know, but over five years he has consistently scored over 1000 runs in this slightly truncated season. He really deserves this opportunity in the England Test squad.”
As for Denly, who plays for Kent, he has scored 798 runs in 13 games, which includes three hundreds and three half-centuries, at an average of 36.27. He has also taken 20 wickets at an average of 18.90.
“I played with Joe Denly [at Kent] when he was a very young man,” Smith said. “You could see he was a fantastic natural athlete, a brilliant mover, a talented batter, he bowled leg spin, everything came very easily to him.
“What’s happened to Joe is he’s evolved into this really calm, measured performer but that touch of class is still there, it’s in his DNA.
“He’s become an increasingly effective leg-break bowler in white-ball cricket, obviously that’s one of things that’s clear, but also in four-day cricket. He’s also an outstanding fielder, so that’s three pretty strong strings to his bow.
“I think with players who get opportunities late in their careers, you just want to know that touch of class is there, and there definitely is with him. So that counts in his favour.”
Stone, meanwhile, has excelled in the six matches he has played for Warwickshire as he has claimed 37 wickets at an average of 12.27.
“I spoke to Ashley [Giles] just on the way in now and have been in regular contact with him throughout the summer,” said Smith. “It’s been really good to have that communication with him.
“Obviously Olly Stone is a very exciting talent and he has been troubled by injuries, there’s no secret there. We want to catch him when he’s at his best, when he’s in form, bowling fast bowling accurately, with skill, but also manage his workload so he doesn’t get injured.
“There’s always a risk with any fast bowler, injuries can happen. If you want to take no risks, you never select anyone for anything. However, we believe there’s a way of managing his workload so we can get the best out of him without exposing him to unnecessary risks.
“But in Olly’s case he’s quick and he’s getting his wickets at 12 and his strike rate is 22. It’s a bonus the fact he’s got that pace. He’s not there just because he’s fast, he’s there because he’s doing a really good job and obviously it’s a great asset he has that extra pace as well.”
Meanwhile, opening batsman Keaton Jennings was retained, even though he struggled to have much of an impact in the five-Test series against India, where he accumulated 163 runs at an average of 18.11.
Explaining why Jennings was not dropped, Smith said: “Going into The Oval Test, if you take England, Pakistan and India together, their opening bats averaged 20, which is exactly where Keaton averaged, or a notch different [192 runs at 19.20]. He conforms to the average.
“We are here talking about how are you going to replace Alastair Cook and what a hole he leaves – it’s a wonderful career and deserves every superlative going – but he didn’t find opening the batting in England in 2018 very easy. [India’s] Murali Vijay is a very assured Test-match opener and he watched the last three games on TV, he lasted four innings.
“Like every opening batsman this summer, Keaton Jennings found opening the batting difficult. There’s no secret about that, but when it comes to selecting a touring party, we felt Keaton Jennings was in our best squad to beat Sri Lanka.
“Looking at capabilities and track record, he has a Test-match hundred in Mumbai when the ball spun extravagantly. He can draw on that. He has come through a really tough summer and sometimes in international sport getting through something difficult can put you in good stead.”
There was speculation that England’s pace duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad would be rested for the series, but they have both made the cut and are expected to spearhead the pace attack.
“If you look at the make-up of the Test schedule we’ve got these three Tests in Sri Lanka, three in West Indies in the new year and then a long break when the World Cup will be played,” Smith said. “Workloads are manageable and Stuart and Jimmy were both keen to play. Moving forward at some stage there will be some need for succession planning, however in this instance we felt it was perfectly manageable for them to play these three Tests.”
The other notable inclusion was Somerset spinner Jack Leach, who is the third spin bowler in the side behind Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid.
England’s three-Test series against Sri Lanka begins on November 6 in Galle.
England’s Test Squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Rory Burns, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Adil Rashid, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes