Ashes diary: Jason Roy's Test selection & Joe Denly fight for his England spot

Jason Roy drives against India at Edgbaston
Jason Roy drives against India at Edgbaston

Richard Mann kicks off his Ashes diary by discussing Jason Roy's selection for the Test match against Ireland and looks at the troublesome number three position for England.

England banking on Roy of the Rovers saviour

So, at the start of another home Test summer, England will field yet another new opening pair when they begin their Ashes preparations by taking on Ireland at Lord's next week.

After 17 Test matches of continued struggles, Keaton Jennings' international career finally appears to be over while Alastair Cook's retirement at the end of last summer has left coach Trevor Bayliss with a huge hole to fill at the top of the order.

The opening batsman slots have proved particularly problematic with England trying a host of options in the last few years, varying from the aggression of Alex Hales to the more stoic Sam Robson and then the likes of Adam Lyth and Mark Stoneman following strong returns in county cricket.

All failed to cut it to varying degrees and Rory Burns is now the incumbent following six encouraging, if not earth shattering, appearances last winter. Burns made a couple of fifties in those six matches to suggest there is an international player in there but he will want a big score early in the summer to keep his critics at bay.

He seems sure to line up in the first Ashes Test against Australia on August 1 with England making something of a statement of intent in nominating his opening partner.

Burns' Surrey teammate Jason Roy will get first chance to make that position his own having been rewarded for his exceptional form in ODI cricket with a call up to the Test side, a move that certainly fits in the Bayliss ethos of taking the game to opposition and fighting fire with fire in the face of Australia's fearsome pace attack.

A bold move for sure, but Roy hasn't played any red-ball cricket since last summer and, more significantly, much of his 84-match first class career has seen him bat in Surrey's middle order, shielded from the new ball.

England's Jason Roy
England's Jason Roy

In the 2018 county season Roy made 128 runs at 65.33 from his two appearances but he batted at number three on both occasions and for all his international 50-over record at the top of the order stands up to the closest scrutiny - 3381 career runs at 42.79 - he has certainly been helped by playing in a wonderful side and on flat pitches against the white ball.

If we wanted an early snapshot of how Roy might fare opening the batting in Test cricket, his 20-ball 17 in Sunday's World Cup final against high-class new-ball pairing Trent Boult and Matt Henry certainly made for interesting viewing.

Having survived a huge LBW appeal against Boult first ball, only saved by umpire's call, Roy was given a real working over by the New Zealand pace duo and he looked fallible against the moving ball, his lack of footwork exposed by Henry's outswing in particular.

Nevertheless, despite playing and missing five times (20 per cent of the deliveries he faced) in his short stay, Roy unfurled three sumptuous boundaries to momentarily threaten to kick-start England's run chase, and it's that supreme talent and ability to transfer pressure back onto opposition bowlers that has won over the England selectors.

Jos Buttler's success story last summer, having been recalled to the Test side following an impressive run of form in the IPL, has surely helped Roy's cause, too, and with few names in county cricket hammering down the door - Dom Sibley apart - it is no surprise to see England go down this route.

It is certainly the case that successful white-ball opening batsman can find a way to do the same in the longer form of the game, David Warner being the obvious example, but Roy has to tighten up his technique against the moving ball if he is to make the big hundreds England so desperately need from their top order.

England are taking a big gamble and though it is a gamble they can argue they have been forced to take, this has been on the minds of the England think-tank for a while, as head selector Ed Smith confirmed on Wednesday.

He said: "(England captain) Joe Root and I spoke at length months ago about the scenario in which Jason finished the World Cup confident, full of runs and went straight into the Ashes and that's what we've done.

"It feels like a really good time for Jason to join the Test team as an opener. He's in and has our full backing."

For someone like Sibley, a young traditional-style opener who has amassed 940 runs at an average of 62.66 for Warwickshire in division one of the County Championship already this year, he can rightly feel hard done by having missed out at the expense of someone who has rarely played country cricket in the last 24 months.

Nevertheless, with Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins sure to test Roy's technique and temperament like never before in the coming weeks, Sibley shouldn't be giving up on his Ashes dream just yet.

This is Test cricket after all, and Roy needs to prove that he has the game to scale cricket's highest mountain.

Northeast waiting in the wings

Joe Denly
Joe Denly

A welcome return to form for Joe Denly has seemingly ensured he will bat at number three against Ireland next week having made 69 in that position against the West Indies in the winter but like Roy, he has by no means secured his long-term place in the England side.

Following his exclusion from England's World Cup squad, Denly initially struggled to find any sort out form in the County Championship but scores of 167 not out against Nottinghamshire and 154 against Hampshire in the last six weeks have turned his summer around and earned him the nod for the Lord's Test match.

He will need to make runs there, though, with the likes of Gary Ballance and Sam Northeast knocking the door down so far this season.

A recall for Ballance would seem unlikely, for all Root is a big fan of his Yorkshire teammate, but Northeast continues to quietly go about his business and has played really well so far this summer, 815 runs and counting at 62.69 putting him firmly in the Ashes picture.

Having moved to Hampshire at the start of last summer, Northeast was apparently close to an England call-up following a big early-season hundred against Surrey but a broken finger sustained in practice shattered those hopes and much of his season, for all he was still able to star in Hampshire's Royal London One-Day Cup final triumph.

Now approaching 30 years of age, this bold talent who was touted for international honours from a very young age has now matured into a fine all-round batsman with a strong first-class record to his name.

Northeast's form and impressive temperament has seen him captain Hampshire for large parts of the current campaign in James Vince's absence and big runs against the likes of Yorkshire, Somerset and Nottingham - whose attack featured Stuart Broad - tells you a little bit about his pedigree.

A call-up to the England Lions squad to play Australia A in the last week was another sign that Northeast is on the radar of the England selectors and his 34 in the second innings will have left him frustrated, for he would have dearly loved to have made another big statement.

Nevertheless, Northeast must be close to full international honours, he has seemingly been close for a number of years now, and any slip up from the likes of Denly and Roy could easily see him firmly back in the picture later in the summer.

With Nottinghamshire's Joe Clarke out of the England frame for now, and Vince desperately needing some cricket having spent much of the World Cup carrying drinks, Northeast might only be one step away from the biggest event in Cricket.

With the Ashes only weeks away now, the stakes couldn't be higher for those in possession of England's shirt and those eagerly waiting in the wings.

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