Injury adds to England selection quandary

18 July 2017

Ballance's form and fitness are both a concern ahead of the third Test // Getty

Gary Ballance and Mark Wood under fitness cloud as England reportedly ponder another uncapped opener

A finger injury has cast further doubt over the participation of Gary Ballance in the third Test against South Africa next week, but a UK media report indicates allrounder Liam Dawson will be the most vulnerable when England selectors gather to name their squad.

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The left-hander survived just six more deliveries after the blow before he was trapped LBW for 4 by Vernon Philander, dropping his career Test average to 37.45, and renewing calls from the likes of former Test skipper Nasser Hussain for selectors to re-think the Yorkshireman's spot in the side.


But a report in the UK Telegraph indicates Ballance, if he's fit, could earn a reprieve for the third Test at The Oval and uncapped Surrey opener Mark Stoneman could earn a call-up and lead to a re-jig of the batting line-up.

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The Telegraph's report says Stoneman is set to replace Dawson in the side and play as an opener, which would relegate Keaton Jennings to No.3 and allow Ballance to move down the order to his familiar No.5 position.

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Should the left-hander debut at his home ground and open the innings, he will be Alastair Cook's 12th different opening partner since former captain Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.

Such a move would also mean Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali would drop a spot in the order, given much-needed depth to a batting line-up that survived just 96.1 overs in Nottingham, England’s lowest total in a home match since the fourth Test of the 2009 Ashes.

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Skipper Joe Root, who has stated his desire to remain at No.4 in the order, backed his under-fire batsmen after they collapsed twice against the Proteas.

"No, I don’t think it (the top three) is a concern," Root said. "They just need some runs and to spend some time out in the middle.

"I’m sure if they get the opportunity to do that in the next game they will go on and make big scores.

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Paceman Mark Wood is also under a fitness cloud after appearing to struggle with a left heel problem in Nottingham, where he went wicketless from 35 overs.

Uncapped quick Toby Roland-Jones was in the squad for the first two Tests and could be in line for a debut if Wood is ordered to rest, although Nottinghamshire's Jake Ball is also in line to return from a knee injury.

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"It’s been a tough week for Woody, really," Root said.

"He worked really hard throughout the game and was unfortunate not to pick up many wickets but I can’t fault his efforts, the way he’s gone about it.

"In terms of fitness he came through quite well, so hopefully he’s fit for selection for the next one."