NOTTINGHAM: Uncapped Surrey batsman Rory Burns is set to replace Alastair Cook at the top of England’s order after being named in a 16-man squad on Friday for the upcoming three-Test tour of Sri Lanka.
Left-handed opener Cook, England’s all-time leading run-scorer, retired from international duty after bringing down the curtain on his illustrious 12-year Test career with a farewell century against India at the Oval this month.
That left England with an opening batsman vacancy.
They have now turned to Burns, who captained Surrey to the County Championship title this season, with Kent top-order batsman Joe Denly and Warwickshire paceman Olly Stone the other two uncapped players in the squad.
Burns has been the leading run-scorer in the English top flight this season, scoring 1,319 Championship runs at an average of over 69.
“I think Rory Burns has impressed everyone with the consistency of his run scoring.
“Not just this year when he’s scored 1300 runs and led Surrey to the title –- which are both significant achievements — but over five years he has consistently scored over a thousand runs (a season),” said Smith.
He was speaking to reporters at Trent Bridge on Friday after overseeing a selection meeting at Nottinghamshire’s headquarters.
Fellow opener Keaton Jennings was retained despite struggling against Pakistan and India this season — he scored 192 runs in six Tests at a meagre average of 19.20.
“Like every opening batsman, this summer Keaton Jennings found opening the batting difficult. There’s no secret about that,” said Smith, a former England batsman, who took over as selection chief at the start of this season.
“But when it comes to selecting a touring party we felt Keaton was in our best squad to beat Sri Lanka.”
The 32-year-old Denly returned to the England set-up for the first time since 2010, when he earned nine one-day international caps and played five Twenty20s.
His leg-spin bowling could also prove useful in Sri Lanka, where pitches often provide plenty of turns.
“I played with Joe Denly when he was a very young man, you could see he was a fantastic natural athlete, a brilliant mover, talented batter, bowled leg-spin, everything came very easily to him,” said former Kent captain Smith.
“What’s happened to Joe is he’s evolved into this really calm, measured performer but that touch of class is still there.”
– ‘Exciting Stone’ –
Warwickshire paceman Olly Stone was the third uncapped player in the squad.
The 24-year-old Stone, who was named in England’s squad for the first time earlier this week for the preceding one-day series, has taken 37 wickets at just 12 apiece for Warwickshire in the County Championship this season.
He adds a measure of extra pace to an attack set to be headed up again by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
But Smith insisted Stone had not been selected to fill a perceived need for a genuine fast bowler.
And he stressed he had been in contact with Warwickshire coach Ashley Giles, who had warned England to treat Stone “like a Ferrari”.
“Obviously Olly Stone is a very exciting talent and he has been troubled by injuries, there’s no secret there,” said Smith.
“We want to catch him when he’s at his best, when he’s in form, bowling fast, bowling accurately, with skill, but also manage his workload.
“There’s always a risk with any fast bowler, injuries can happen. You want to take no risks, you never select anyone for anything.
“However, we believe there’s a way of managing his workload so we can get the best out of him without exposing him to unnecessary risks.”
Smith added: “It’s a bonus the fact he’s got that pace. He’s not there just because he’s fast, he’s there because he’s doing a really good job and obviously it’s a great asset he has that extra pace as well.”
England begin a three-Test series against Sri Lanka in Galle starting on November 6.