Dan Lawrence is in pole position to bat at four in England’s first Test against the West Indies after being selected there for the tourists’ only warm-up in Antigua this week.
With captain Joe Root bumping himself up to first drop in an attempt to add some ballast to an unconvincing top order, Lawrence comes in to fill the vacant number four position against a Cricket West Indies President’s XI.
Lawrence, curiously unused during England’s turbulent Ashes campaign, has been deployed at three, five, six and seven in a stop-start Test career that has comprised of only eight matches but now has a chance to stake his claim.
The Essex batter has been given the nod for the four-day practice match at the Coolidge Cricket Ground starting on Tuesday ahead of Ollie Pope, named among the substitutes after averaging a paltry 20.36 in his last 10 Tests.
This marks England’s first red-ball outing since a mauling in Australia, with Zak Crawley joined by the uncapped Alex Lees at the top of the order, while Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are carded at five and six respectively.
Ben Foakes, as anticipated, takes the gloves, while Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson will be the fast bowlers on show, with spinner Jack Leach completing the 12-strong line-up in a non-first-class fixture.
That means Saqib Mahmood, Matt Fisher and Matt Parkinson – all of whom are awaiting their maiden Test cap – join Pope on the bench, with England plumping for the more experienced campaigners in their bowling department.
Of course, their two most accomplished performers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have taken a combined 1,177 Test wickets, have been controversially left at home as part of England’s much-publicised red-ball ‘reset’.
While Wood sympathises with the pair – and has “no doubt” they will be back on England duty at some point in the summer – the express quick is optimistic about the three-Test tour of the Windies which starts on March 8.
And the 32-year-old, one of the only players to burnish his reputation Down Under as he took 17 wickets at 26.64 apiece, is ready to take on more of a leadership role to compensate for the absences of Anderson and Broad.
“I’ve got to, yeah, which is a bit strange,” Wood told Sky Sports. “With me being one of the senior guys, I might stand up myself and speak more in team meetings and just try and pass on a little bit of my experience.
“Ultimately I haven’t passed on too much cricket stuff, I’ve just tried to be a good team-mate and offer something not just to the cricket side of things but the dressing room in general and bring plenty of energy and focus.”
Wood, though, is reluctant to become the figurehead of England’s bowling attack, believing the duty should be a collective one.
“I don’t see it like that, if I’m honest,” he said. “It’s more of a group thing. It’s a responsibility for everyone when you play for England – the responsibility is there to take it on and try and win that game.
“Maybe it’s a bit more on my shoulders, Woakes’ shoulders to help the younger lads a little bit, but they’re keen as mustard to crack on and play for England. They haven’t been shy in the meetings which is great.”
Wood admitted he was “hurting, down and deflated” after England’s 4-0 thrashing in Australia, but he has likened the reaction to how Eoin Morgan’s white-ball side transformed their fortunes from the 2015 to 2019 World Cups.
Wood, a key part of the team that landed England their first 50-over World Cup, added: “Hopefully we’re going to implement a slightly different way to play and try our best to win here.
“We had some good meetings and some honest discussions. It feels a little bit, in a way, similar to the white-ball stuff when I first came to that side where we had some fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.
“It’s been more individual and how you can do your best to help the team win.”