(ESPNCricinfo) – Moeen Ali is in line for his first Test appearance in almost a year, while Essex’s Dan Lawrence could be given a chance to challenge for a place in England’s middle order, after both men were named in a 30-man training squad that will prepare behind closed doors ahead of next month’s Test series against West Indies.
Moeen, who was dropped after the first Test of last summer’s Ashes, opted out of England’s winter tours of New Zealand and South Africa, as well as the trip to Sri Lanka in March that was curtailed midway the opening warm-up match due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
But having indicated in April that he was “probably ready” to resume his Test career, he joined the 16 players who travelled for that Sri Lanka tour, among them his fellow spinner, Jack Leach, whose involvement in the bio-secure Test series had been in some doubt after his bouts of illness in the winter, including a sepsis diagnosis in New Zealand.
Lawrence, meanwhile, has been given his opportunity after playing a key role in Essex’s two Championship victories in three seasons. His call-up comes off the back of an outstanding winter for England Lions in Australia, where he scored two centuries in the red-ball leg of the tour, including 125 against Australia A at Melbourne – England’s first victory in an unofficial Test in Australia in seven win-less tours.
Also included in the 30-man squad – which will be trimmed to nearer 20 players after the squad has played a three-day warm-up match at the Ageas Bowl, starting July 1 – are some more familiar names.
James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood all return after being omitted from the Sri Lanka tour due to injury. Rory Burns, England’s first-choice opener, is also back, having undergone ankle surgery after sustaining an injury playing football on the eve of the Cape Town Test.
The 30-man squad also includes a range of fast bowlers who may well challenge the incumbents given the condensed schedule, with three Tests taking place in as many weeks, and a similar itinerary in store for Pakistan’s visit in August.
Somerset’s twins, Jamie and Craig Overton, are both included, alongside Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood, Warwickshire’s Olly Stone, and Sussex’s Ollie Robinson, who has amassed 137 wickets in the last two Championship seasons.
The Somerset all-rounder Lewis Gregory is also in the mix, having debuted for England in the T20I series in New Zealand last year.
England’s spin ranks are supplemented by Surrey’s left-arm spinner Amar Virdi, while the selectors have also kept their wicket-keeping options wide open by including both Jonny Bairstow, who this week reiterated that he wanted his gloves back, and Gloucestershire’s James Bracey, alongside the Test incumbent Jos Buttler and Surrey’s Ben Foakes.
The squad is due to report to the Ageas Bowl on June 23, where they will they stay at the venue’s on-site hotel and practise under the guidance of a red-ball coaching group that will be led by head coach Chris Silverwood, with Graham Thorpe alongside him.
Paul Collingwood is set to take charge of England’s white-ball squad for their series against Ireland, so three further coaches have been seconded from county cricket: Lancashire’s Glen Chapple, Gloucestershire’s Richard Dawson, and Kent’s Matthew Walker. Chris Read will also join the management team as wicket-keeping consultant, alongside Carl Hopkinson as fielding coach.
Mo Bobat, the ECB performance director, said: “The support that we’ve received from counties during our return to training phase so far has been excellent, and it’s great to be able to continue with this collaborative approach as we move into a ‘Behind Closed Doors’ training environment.
“As is the case in the current climate, things have progressed quickly, and we are very grateful to counties for allowing us to second their coaches to support our Test preparation. The larger group of players will certainly keep them busy.
“Involving Glen Chapple, Richard Dawson and Matt Walker adds significant leadership strength to our coaching team, as well as their obvious technical and tactical knowledge. Similarly, Chris Read’s vast experience at the highest level will no doubt add value.
“Both Glen (Chapple) and Richard (Dawson) were involved in winter Lions activity, so it’s nice for them and the players to build on effective coaching relationships and it’s also a real positive for our domestic game that we can expose a greater number of our coaches to international cricket.”
Ed Smith, England’s national selector, added: “Everyone involved with England is delighted that cricket is returning soon, and that the players are reporting for group training in preparation for the Test series against the West Indies.”