Joe Root has moved to the head of the queue as Alastair Cook’s prospective Ashes opening partner - but faces a significant final audition against Essex first.
The 22-year-old Sheffielder appears to have usurped Nick Compton, 30 tomorrow, at the last minute after he was named in England’s 14-man squad to play at Chelmsford in a four-day match starting on Sunday - and the man previously in possession was dropped.
National selector Geoff Miller described Root as “currently the best opening partner for Alastair Cook” - and although Compton still has an opportunity to prove his credentials afresh in a four-day match between his county Somerset and Australia, set to start in Taunton on his birthday, there can be little doubt he has slipped down the pecking order at a crucial moment.
Compton has opened for England in their last nine Test matches, against India and New Zealand, but could muster only 39 runs in four innings in a two-match home series with the Kiwis last month.
Miller said: “We believe Joe Root is currently the best opening partner for Alastair Cook, and he will open the batting against Essex.
“Joe has performed well for Yorkshire at the top of the order earlier this season, and during his international career so far has proven to be very adaptable in all three formats and relished the challenge of international cricket.”
Boyd Rankin is the only member of the squad to face Essex who has yet to play for England in any format.
The tall Irishman joins five other pace bowlers in the squad - James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Graham Onions.
Rankin, Onions and a fit-again Kevin Pietersen are the only players selected who were not named in either squad to face New Zealand at the start of this summer.
Miller added: “This match is a vital part of our preparations for the Investec Ashes after a period of limited-overs cricket for a large number of the squad.
“We have a very exciting two months of Test cricket coming up, and it is important we start well at Chelmsford next week.
“Kevin Pietersen has had no complications following his recent return to cricket after a knee injury - which is pleasing - and Graeme Swann is recovering well from a calf injury.”
First-choice off-spinner Swann missed all but one of England’s matches in the Champions Trophy, which concluded when they lost the final to India on Sunday.
Pietersen, out of action since March because of bruising behind his right knee, made a spectacular comeback with Surrey - hitting an unbeaten 177 not out against Yorkshire at the weekend in his first innings of the summer.
*England squad (v Essex at Chelmsford, June 30-July 3): AN Cook (Captain), JM Anderson, JM Bairstow, IR Bell, TT Bresnan, SCJ Broad, ST Finn, G Onions, KP Pietersen, MJ Prior (wkt), WB Rankin, JE Root, GP Swann, IJL Trott