By Chris Stocks
When England name their squad for the tour of New Zealand on Tuesday, there is every chance it will contain fresh faces following a disappointing Ashes tour both on and off the field.
Joe Root’s team will face a far friendlier series in every sense of the word when they take on Kane Williamson’s men over the course of two Test matches in March and early April.
Conditions, the opposition and the glare of constant media focus has been an eye-opener for some within the current Ashes squad, including coach Trevor Bayliss.
But the Australian admits the gentler New Zealand tour might be the perfect time to bring in a couple of newcomers, with Lancashire all-rounder Liam Livingstone, Worcestershire batsman Joe Clarke, 21, and his Essex counterpart Dan Lawrence, 20, all in with a chance of being selected.
Expect Mark Wood, the Durham fast bowler who will be eager to prove his fitness in the upcoming ODIs against Australia, to also be included.
Ben Stokes will be named in the squad, too, although he is unlikely to travel unless there is a quick resolution to his legal case.
Clarke, Lawrence and 24-year-old Livingstone have all impressed with their recent performances for England Lions in Australia.
And Bayliss said: “There’s been some chat over the past few series about how we can start getting some of those younger players in. We have seen Craig Overton and Tom Curran on this tour, and Mason Crane as well. From the batting point of view, we want to see some of the younger guys in England pushing a little harder to get in. We’ll have to sit down and see.
“Livingstone, Clarke, Lawrence have all been mentioned in the past six months or so, along the lines of being the next guys coming through but you need an opportunity to put them in. Is this the opportunity?
“Are the guys that are here, have they done enough to warrant further selection? Over a period of time you want to see those guys not just putting pressure on but getting opportunities for the longevity of the team’s success.”
Of the current England batsmen in danger of being ditched for New Zealand, Gary Ballance, who has not played in the Ashes, and James Vince, who has, are right at the top of the list.
Vince was a surprise pick for this Ashes tour and despite starting the series well with a score of 83 in Brisbane, he has faded and was averaging just 28 before the final Test in Sydney.
Expect Lawrence, one of the stars of Essex’s title campaign last summer, and Livingstone, whose all-round qualities appeal to Bayliss, to be the men to come in, with Clarke a chance.
After keeping faith with Moeen Ali for the final Ashes Test in Sydney, the all-rounder will also be in the squad for New Zealand.
Moeen has had a difficult Ashes tour, averaging over 100 with the ball in the first four Tests, form which has also affected his batting.
The good news for England and Moeen is the fact part-time spin coach Saqlain Mushtaq, who left this tour after the second Test in Adelaide, will spend more time with the team this year.
“He’s signed up for a few more days from 2018 onwards with a view to being involved more often,” confirmed Bayliss. “But he had other previous commitments booked in. He’s been great for Mo and Adil Rashid and speaking to Mason (Crane), he enjoyed working with him too.”
Bayliss has also backed his three most senior players in Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad to still be in the squad by the time the next Ashes series starts at home next year.
“I think if the desire is still there then why not?” he said. “But we also need guys coming in and putting pressure on them as well.
“Anyone is susceptible to a loss of form and guys on the outside doing well and forcing their way in. It doesn’t matter if you are experienced or not – but certainly from their performances in the last game (in Melbourne) and what they have done over a number of years, then I can’t see any reason why not – if they keep performing.”
There were also words of support for Root’s fledgling captaincy after he was branded a “little boy” by former Australia captain Ricky Ponting.
“There’s an ex-Australia captain putting that out there to put pressure on,” said Bayliss. “With any new young captain, 99 per cent of them, it takes a while to settle in.
“A few years ago Steve Smith was under the same sort of pressure, to come in and change things 100 per cent. It takes time to get that confidence but Joe is heading in the right direction.”