The hosts are eager to field a settled side, after building a squad which has transformed their white ball fortunes and seen them emerge early favourites for the tournament.
However, the form of first choice opener Jason Roy presents an ongoing concern. At the same time, Jonny Bairstow continues to press his case for inclusion.
While Roy’s partnership with Alex Hales has been a cornerstone of England’s limited overs success over the past two years, he totalled just 13 runs in three innings in the South Africa series that ended at Lord’s on Monday. This run comes on the back of a modest IPL and scores of 0 and 20 in the ODIs against Ireland earlier this month.
Coach Trevor Bayliss admitted Bairstow had given the selectors food for thought ahead of Thursday, although England will be wary of making such a major change just before a global tournament.
Bairstow made the most of his opportunity while other players were rested during Monday’s dead rubber against South Africa, demonstrating both application and offence in his 51 made in testing conditions. He made an unbeaten 72 when given a similar chance against Ireland, also at Lord’s.
He was harsh on anything short and wide, but showed lovely touch, driving and sweeping fluently. Amid the wreckage of England’s top-order collapse to 20-6, he rebuilt, his partnerships with David Willey and debutant Toby Roland-Jones helping England carve out some kind of total for their bowlers to try to defend.
Only his eventual dismissal, stumped after giving slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj the charge, disappointed, but it was another reminder to England that this is a man in prime form.
England skipper Eoin Morgan is well aware of Bairstow’s ability: “I was very impressed with Jonny on Monday. He never lets us down every time he comes in, he scores runs and he continues to bang on the door.
“It’s the hardest thing telling Jonny that he’s not playing when he’s done nothing wrong because he scores a huge amount of runs.”
For Morgan, Roy continues to be the first choice, for now: “As regards selection, Jason is our number one pick at the moment. Him and Hales have been our 1 and 2 for quite a long time. They’ve had their ups and downs, but ultimately, they’ve played in the fashion that we have played as a team and they’ve been very important to that.”
Bayliss was fulsome in his praise for the Yorkshire keeper at close of play on Monday: “Jonny played it well. He played it as if it was a Test wicket and that was the reason why he scored some runs. He’s given us food for thought. He just keeps doing the right thing, so it’s going to be an interesting selection meeting.”
Speaking about Roy, Bayliss said: “You worry about anyone who’s out of runs. Jason’s been important to us the last few years, the way he plays at the top of the order, so for us to do well in this tournament, one of the things we would need is Jason playing well at the top of the order. Having said that, the way Jonny’s playing, and he’s shown to us this year that he can play anywhere in the order, we’re actually in a good position that we have got someone ready and raring to go.”
Bairstow has had few opportunities to shine for Yorkshire this season, with England opting to rest him after a busy winter. He underlined his frustration at the decision by smashing 174 off 113 balls as an opener at Headingley against Durham at the beginning of May. It opens up the prospect that he could slot in alongside Hales at the top of the order without disrupting the batting line-up.
“I’m pleased that we’ve got another guy in good nick because at this stage I’m not exactly sure myself,” said Bayliss. “I’ll have to sit down and it’s going to be an interesting chat when we discuss that team because Jonny’s proven to us a number of times that he is a very, very good player and he plays in a conventional manner, if you like, and he showed today his technique held up under some good pressure.
“He batted today like he has done in Test cricket over the last few years. He opened for Yorkshire earlier this year and made 170. I’m not going to say one way or the other at this stage, but it’s good to have an option.”
Aware of England’s history of making changes before a major tournament, Bayliss said: “That’s one of the arguments for keeping the status quo. Do you back someone like Jason who’s been important to us over the last couple of years or do you go to someone that is in form? That’s the decision we’ve got to make.”
Bayliss believes England’s first three wickets on Monday, including Roy, were guilty of playing too tentatively and repeated the mantra of playing positive cricket: “Jason is probably one of the guys that you say to: “you go out and if the ball’s there you hit it, whether it’s the first ball or the second ball. If it’s in your area, give it a good hit’.
“Sometimes some of those players can get into a little bit of a rut and start thinking about too much, rather just keeping it nice and simple and see the ball and hit it.”
The start to Roy’s international career should give the Surrey opener some cause for optimism, said Bayliss: “The New Zealand series, when he first started, he made some low scores, but he was playing in the right manner, he was playing the way the captain wanted him to play. We stuck with him and he came good. So, he’s got that behind him that he knows what works for him.”
England decided to rest talisman Ben Stokes on Monday, as well as Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood due to a mixture of injury, fatigue and the need to manage workload.
Dismissing suggestions that the IPL schedule had impacted upon England’s bowlers’ fitness, Bayliss countered: “They could have been here playing and got the same injuries. I’m sure if today was a final, they would have been playing. We just gave them an extra day or two and they should be fine for Thursday.”
After Stokes’ century at Southampton last Saturday, England are happy to play the all-rounder as a specialist batsman if need be.
“It’s a strange one with Stokesy,” added Bayliss. “He can run around the field like a mad man and run up and down and doesn’t feel it and as soon as he bowls at full pace, it just grabs a little bit, so hopefully that means it’s nothing major and it won’t take too long to get over.”