Toby Roland-Jones will captain the England Lions for the first time, and Tom Westley will make his first appearance of the winter, in the historic four-day match against Afghanistan which starts in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday 7th December.
Roland-Jones, one of the stars of Middlesex’s outstanding 2016 season, will become the third captain of the Lions in four matches in the first half of their winter programme, after Keaton Jennings led the team for the first two 50-over fixtures against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, and Roland-Jones' Middlesex teammate Nick Gubbins took over for the third.
Westley was the only member of the 16-strong party not to have played in the one-day series, but head coach Andy Flower confirmed he will definitely play against Afghanistan after naming him in a 13-man squad.
“We have a couple of fitness concerns – Liam Livingstone was unable to come to the stadium in Abu Dhabi with us for practice because of illness, and Ollie Rayner has a sore knee,” said Flower. “I know Tom will be looking for a strong performance in his first competitive chance of this section of our winter programme.
“We’ve combined red-ball and white-ball training in our time in Dubai, and to have this first-class game against Afghanistan is a good opportunity for the guys to show what they can do – and also for James Whitaker, the National Selector, to see them doing exactly that.
“We’re expecting Afghanistan to be competitive. They play an aggressive brand of cricket, they’re a proud young cricket nation, and they’ve got a really good cricket story. So we’re all really looking forward to this match.”
For Afghanistan, the match is both historic - because they have never played any England team in a first-class fixture – and also valuable, as they prepare for an Intercontinental Cup fixture against rivals Ireland next March.
They have named a 16-man squad led by Asghar Stanikzai and including several other players with considerable experience, notably Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shenwari and wicketkeeper Afsar Zazai. But there are also a handful of teenagers such as Rashid Khan, a legspinner who has been playing in the Bangladesh Premier League, plus Ihsanullah and Karim Janat, who were members of their ICC Under-19 World Cup squad earlier this year.
The Lions players return home on Sunday night – with Flower and several other coaches staying to work with the Young Lions squad, who arrived in Dubai at the weekend and have started their training camp at the ICC Academy. Whitaker and the other England selectors will then finalise the Lions squad for the second half of their winter programme, a five-week trip to Sri Lanka in February and March which will include two four-day games and five one-day matches against Sri Lanka A.
The selectors will also discuss squads for the North versus South 50-over series to be played in Dubai and Abu Dhabi after the Lions tour in March, with at least nine players to be added to each team after four qualified through their performances in the Royal London One-Day Cup – calculated by the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s Most Valuable Player rankings.