The national selector, Ed Smith, has earmarked four players to lead England into a bold new era as the dressing room prepares to move on from the age of Alastair Cook and Jimmy Anderson.
With England getting ready for a crucial five-Test series against India, it is understood Smith is placing his faith in Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow to form the spine and heart of the team across the formats for the next few years.
Root, Stokes and Buttler are all 27, and Bairstow 28. Of the four, only Root’s place in the Twenty20 team is under threat — and he intends to win that back as soon as possible.
England selector Ed Smith is placing his faith in four players to lead the team into a new era
Smith wants to build the team around Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes
The success of England’s 50-over side — brimming with youth and energy — has provided the Test team with a model Smith is keen to emulate as they seek their first series win in four.
England will welcome the runs of Cook, who is 33, and wickets of Anderson, who turns 36 on Monday, for as long as they are around. But with Stuart Broad, 32, not looking beyond the 2019 Ashes, thoughts are turning to the next generation.
In that respect, the selections this summer of Essex seamer Jamie Porter, 25, Surrey left-armer Sam Curran, 20, and Somerset off-spinner Dominic Bess, 21, are significant.
Bairstow (L) is 28, Buttler (M) and Stokes (R) is 27 and all three play for England in all formats
Beyond the question of age, however, Smith is believed to value the competitive aggression and the commitment to the team cause of the Root-Stokes-Buttler-Bairstow axis. Moeen Ali — another all-format player — will be expected to play a crucial role as well, though at 31 he has less time ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Smith has backed one of the Test team’s thirty-somethings, Dawid Malan, to come good this summer as he seeks to dispel doubts about his international future.
Malan risks missing the first Test at Edgbaston, starting on Wednesday, if England decide to play two spinners. And that would be poor reward for his innings of 74 and 56 for England Lions against India A at Worcester recently — both played in the knowledge that Smith and his fellow selectors expected more from Malan than a Test average of 29.
Stuart Broad (L), James Anderson (M) and Alastair Cook (R) are all on the cusp of retirement
But Smith feels the hot weather could play into his hands. ‘I think every batter probably feels he could be scoring more runs,’ he said. ‘But Dawid got two fifties in that Lions match and that will do him the power of good.
‘We’ve all seen how well he can time the ball. There’s also the evidence from that Perth innings, where he played really well in difficult circumstances [Malan made 140 in the third Ashes Test in December].
‘Later on in the summer, when there might be less seam movement in the wickets, might play to his strengths. So, yes, he’s retained in the squad.’
The selection of Jamie Porter this summer is a significant one as England look to the future
One of the curious features of Malan’s 14-Test career is that he seems less suited to the swinging, seaming conditions commonly found in England, and more at home on flatter pitches abroad.
In seven Tests in this country, he averages just 21, with only a pair of sixties against a middling West Indies side to his credit. In seven away Tests, his average is 35, and he was England’s leading run-scorer during the otherwise disastrous 2017-18 Ashes, with 383 at 43.
As much as anything, the five Tests against India will be an examination of technique against slow bowling, with the tourists set to unleash off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja and left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav.
If Malan comes through that test, winter trips on the slow tracks of Sri Lanka and West Indies await.
Smith is also backing Dawid Malan to come good amid doubts over his international career