Joe Root has urged Mark Stoneman to take his opportunity and stop the revolving door at the top of England’s order after being selected for next week’s first Test against the West Indies at Edgbaston.
Stoneman, 30, will become Alastair Cook’s 12th opening partner in five years when he makes his debut in the first day-night Test in the UK.
The Surrey opener was selected in place of Keaton Jennings after his former Durham team-mate’s poor form saw him average just 15.87 during England’s recent series win against South Africa.
While Jennings sets about rebuilding his career in county cricket, Stoneman has been given a golden chance to book a spot on this winter’s Ashes tour following a fine first season for Surrey that has seen him score more than 1,000 first-class runs at an average of 58.82.
However, success is far from guaranteed in a position that has turned into a poisoned chalice since the retirement of Andrew Strauss at the end of the 2012 international summer.
Root, who orchestrated a 3-1 win against South Africa in his first series as Test captain, knows how hard the job will be for Stoneman having been the second of Cook’s post-Strauss partners back in 2013.
But, with just three Tests against the West Indies before the Ashes series begins in November, he is hopeful the new man can finally end what has become England’s biggest selection headache in recent memory.
“It’s always been a very difficult place to bat,” said Root. “Having done it the majority of my early career a lot of the time you don’t get the consistency you get in the middle order.
“A lot of great openers’ strengths is when they do get in they make big, big scores. Unfortunately, on a few occasions guys haven’t quite managed to do that.
“It’s still another opportunity for Mark to come in and do just that. Hopefully, he does it.
“It’s a strange one. You look at the talent and the guys who have played and you think they have every chance of being able to do it. But, unfortunately, it’s not been the case.”
That opening slot alongside Cook is one of three areas of weakness in England’s top six, with the positions of Tom Westley at three and Dawid Malan at five also far from secure.
Both those batsmen have played just two Tests, with Westley at least scoring one half-century in four innings compared to Malan’s return of just 35 runs at 8.75.
Yet asked if having so many question marks ahead of the Ashes was a concern, Root told Stoneman, Westley and Malan that the prospect of a trip to Australia should inspire them to establish themselves at Test level.
“You wouldn’t say necessarily it’s a huge concern,” said England’s captain. “I look at it as opportunity for guys to take their chances and really throw put their names forward for a big series.
“It should excite people. You look at the winter ahead and the exciting challenges that poses – it’s a great time to come in make big runs and say ‘I am ready for this Ashes series’ and I want to be a part of a side that can go over there and do something special.”
One player selected with Australia in mind is young Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane, who received his first Test call-up at the age of 20 when he was named in the 13-man squad for Edgbaston.
Crane made an impressive T20 debut against South Africa at Cardiff in June, taking the prized wicket of AB De Villiers. He also had a fine season in Australia last winter that ended with him playing Sheffield Shield cricket for New South Wales.
Yet Crane’s selection does raise doubts over the Test future of another leg-spinner in Adil Rashid, Root’s Yorkshire team-mate who has been overlooked this summer despite outperforming Moeen Ali on last winter’s tour of India.
“It’s never a ‘that’s it’ moment,” said Root. “For him, it’s about coming back into Championship cricket when he gets the chance and taking a lot of wickets, putting some good performances in and pushing hard.”
Is the perception Rashid has been written off as a Test bowler because he is too expensive, right?
“I think it can be difficult for some guys to cross between formats,” says Root. “For him, it’s always difficult. You look at the performances of Moeen: such a strong batsman that can offer with the ball. If you’re looking for a second option, you have to weigh-up what works best for the team. This time we wanted to give Mason an opportunity to see what he can do for the team and see how he fared in Test cricket.
“It’s a great opportunity to get him involved and for him to show everyone in the squad what he’s capable of doing and see how he fares with Test cricket ahead of Australia.”
Joe Root is an Ambassador for health and life insurer Vitality, inspiring healthy and active lifestyles www.vitality.co.uk