England have dropped five-time Ashes-winner Ian Bell for the tour of South Africa - calling up Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance - but insist he can still battle his way back into their future Test plans.
Bell, 33, was a surprise omission from a 16-man list announced yesterday morning to travel south next month to take on the world number one Test team.
In his absence, Ballance and Nick Compton return and appear set to vie for the number three position Bell has vacated.
England’s selectors have also been busy working out their bowling permutations and have included uncapped left-armer Mark Footitt, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan to contend for the role of third seamer.
Steven Finn and Mark Wood, who is set to have surgery on his chronic ankle impingement next week, are both unavailable because of injury - although it is possible the former may yet travel at a later date.
England also sprang a surprise by leaving out leg-spinner Adil Rashid. He will go to Australia instead to play in the 20-over Big Bash competition - almost certainly with Adelaide Strikers where he would renew acquaintance with his Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie.
National selector James Whitaker explained the decision to drop Bell was a very difficult one, and was at pains to add this is not necessarily an end of the international career for a player with 22 centuries in his 118 Tests but who openly considered retirement after last summer’s Ashes series victory.
Whitaker said: “Ian Bell has been an outstanding player for many years and undoubtedly still has plenty to offer England in the future.
“It was clearly a difficult decision. But he has struggled for runs in recent series, and we felt it was the right time for him to take a break and spend time working on his game out of the spotlight.”
Bell’s last Test hundred came in Antigua eight months ago.
Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have also been named in the squad.