Joe Denly will become the latest batsman to try and solve England’s opening conundrum after Keaton Jennings was dropped for the second time in his Test career.
Just four games ago Jennings made a determined 146 not out in Galle but continued struggles against seam bowling and the increasingly predictable nature of his dismissals have seen him axed for the second Test against the West Indies in favour of the uncapped Denly.
England had been hoping Jennings and Rory Burns would be able to forge a long-term partnership following the retirement of Sir Alastair Cook but a double failure in last week’s heavy defeat in Barbados persuaded them to change tack.
Denly is just 14 months younger than Cook, who has arrived in Antigua to begin his commentary career and was seen in conversation with captain Joe Root ahead of practice. When the 32-year-old takes guard at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium he will become England’s oldest debutant batsman since Alan Wells 24 years ago.
Root named a 12-man squad on the eve of the game with Jack Leach returning to contention and Stuart Broad included following his absence in Bridgetown. Adil Rashid, having made way for Leach, has been granted leave by the management to return to England and be with his pregnant wife.
Root made a point of telling Jennings he still had a future with England but it is likely he will need to make technical improvements and county runs to match before they look again.
“I don’t think it is final for Keaton at all,” he said.
“It’s been a tricky start for him over here and he’ll be disappointed to miss out but he’s got a very good attitude. I’m sure he’ll go away, work on his game and keep looking to improve. I definitely don’t think it’s the end for him.
“It’s never easy…he felt he might not have been far away but we’re out here to win. We want to win the series and we’ve got to make sure we’re proactive in doing that.
“It’s a great opportunity for Joe, he’s definitely got a chance to show what he’s capable of.”
Denly made his international return after almost a decade away in a standalone Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in October, but was unused throughout subsequent Test series.
He excelled for Kent last season, scooping a glut of post-season awards, but the fact his performances came in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship and at number three, means he is taking on a considerable challenge.
“It just shows if you’re scoring the runs and offering all the time there are opportunities there,” Root said of Denly’s elevation.
“We’re a side that want to look at the here and now. The beauty of his selection is he’s very experienced at opening the batting and batting at three. That flexibility is something that’s a great trait to have.”
Root declined to confirm Broad’s place in the side, with the exact balance of the attack yet to be decided, but it would be a huge surprise if they left the country’s second most prolific bowler in history on ice for the fourth time in five Tests.
“No-one likes being left out. Especially someone as experienced as him,” he said.
“I expect him to come back and try and prove a point. He’s someone who can be quite stubborn sometimes and likes to prove people wrong. That’s a very good strength of his and something that can work in our favour.”
As for Rashid, the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed the leg-spinner would be flying out of Antigua before the end of the Test to join his family.
The decision was made after he had been left out of the squad, paying for a modest showing in Barbados, and the 30-year-old will return ahead of next month’s one-day international series.
“It’s not necessarily a reflection on how Adil has gone about things,” added the skipper.
“When he comes into the side you want him to make things happen and take wickets, to show off all of his tricks. On balance we think a slightly different approach might be more effective here.”