Cricket Expert & Columnist
England selectors face tough test picking squad for Sri Lanka, says Nasser Hussain
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Last Updated: 21/09/18 3:31pm
England must make some tough selection decisions to start winning Tests away from home, says Nasser Hussain ahead of Friday's squad announcement.
Ed Smith and his selection panel have been excellent this summer for the most part; they've made some brave, bold choices and I've enjoyed the way they've gone about their work. But the real test is now.
England have won Test series at home of late - they've not lost since 2014 and this time last year they'd just beaten South Africa and West Indies.
They ended up selecting the same sort of group of players to take away to Australia and those players were found wanting in different conditions, especially in the bowling department. England must learn from that.
So will Smith going to think out of the box and consider what it is England need to win away from home or is he going to stick with the same names that have done very well for him in England?
The biggest issues are the opening positions, the quality of spin and the back-up bowling for James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Where are England going to get pace from?
From what I've seen recently, the ball will virtually spin from ball one in Sri Lanka. It was different in my day, when you turned up at Galle and played on a pitch that was incredibly flat for the first two days and then it spun.
It's conceivable that Rangana Herath could open the bowling for Sri Lanka so I think England should pick their best seven batsmen and realise that they will all have to be good players of spin.
I would have liked to take Keaton Jennings, who is a good player of spin, but he's been given a lot of chances and hasn't done enough to warrant selection. His two dismissals at the Oval showed me a batsman with a scrambled brain.
You cannot fault what Rory Burns has done in county cricket, scoring runs year after year, and I'd open with him and James Vince ahead of Joe Denly.
Vince hasn't finished the season in great form but somewhere in there is an international player. England clearly think so, picking him in the squad for the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl, and he got runs in New Zealand, the last time he played.
It's going to spin big so Moeen Ali slots straight into my side after his stellar finish to the summer. I'd also take Adil Rashid but I'd probably play Jack Leach, simply because control will be crucial.
I wouldn't have a problem if the selectors went with Rashid and Ali, but I'd like to see Leach drive it in ball-after-ball and spinning it off a length to build pressure - just as he has done at Taunton.
This is the selectors' hardest decision but England do have options.
Sam Curran has to go after his man-of-the-series display against India but we'll have to wait and see if he can do it in Sri Lanka.
Learning from last winter's Ashes, I would only take two out of Anderson, Broad and Chris Woakes.
All three of them are international cricketers and all three of them would start every single Test in England, including the Ashes next summer.
If Broad and Anderson say they don't want to be rested then you've got to go with them, which is harsh on Woakes - but his record away from home isn't great.
Smith does need to look at life after Broad and Anderson, and he also needs pace too because 'bang it in Billies' aren't likely to go that well in Sri Lanka.
If it's X-factor you're after then I would take Olly Stone, who has pace and the right skiddy trajectory; he targets the stumps a lot and is capable of reversing it.
I'd also take Jamie Overton for more pace but if you take those two, you have to leave one of Woakes, Anderson and Broad out.
You have to remember that there is a World Cup in England next summer and Woakes is an integral part of England's one-day side; it may be worth letting him focus in on white-ball cricket for a little while. But let me be clear, I'd still have him in my side for the first Ashes Test.
Nasser's squad: Burns, Vince, Ali, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Pope, S Curran, Rashid, Leach, Anderson, Broad, Stone, Overton, Denly
Nasser's first Test XI: Burns, Vince, Ali, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, S Curran, Leach, Stone, Anderson
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Watch England's tour of Sri Lanka - featuring five ODIs, one Twenty20, and three Test matches - live on Sky Sports Cricket from October. Here's all you need to know.