STUART BROAD faces the England axe for the first time in almost TEN YEARS — unless he bowls superbly in the next few days.
He has played more than 100 Test matches since last being omitted for reasons other than injury, rest or rotation.
But dropping him — and halting his epic partnership with James Anderson — is a genuine prospect for the three-Test series against Sri Lanka.
The deadly bowling duo have racked up a record-breaking 997 WICKETS for England.
And Broad, 32, can persuade selectors to add to his 123 Tests by performing well in the pair of two-day warm-up matches that begin today.
There are plenty of permutations for England’s starting XI for the First Test in Galle on November 6 — especially as wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow is struggling with an ankle injury.
England are likely to play more spinners and fewer seamers than normal, with Broad probably battling Sam Curran and Chris Woakes for one place.
Personally, I would play Broad because of his vast experience and ability to bowl with control on flat, slow pitches in hot conditions. Yet Curran’s case is persuasive as he was named Man of the Series last month after England’s win over India.
He bowls left-arm swingers and is a better batsman than Broad.
Woakes scored a maiden Test century at Lord’s in the summer — but his record as a bowler overseas is much worse than his numbers at home.
Test captain Joe Root said: “Stuart definitely has an opportunity to play in the Tests. Like with the rest of the guys, the four days coming up are a great opportunity to put a case.
“Ultimately, the XI will come down to the balance of the side. We have some time now to work out what that will be.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a changing of the guard and wouldn’t say Stuart is in a weaker position than previously.
“He could still definitely play a massive part in the three-match series and definitely the First Test is an option.
“But we’ve struggled away from home a number of times, so finding a different formula — with him or without him — is important.
“He’s improving all the time and using his experience wisely. His action is as strong as it has ever been but we’ll have to see the surface for the First Test before deciding on our team.”
Broad is second on England’s list of Test wicket-takers on 433, behind Anderson, who has 564.
If he does not play, Broad will still remain a key figure in England’s attack and a near-certain starter in next summer’s Ashes showdown.
Root has confirmed he will bat at No 4 and suggested that Jos Buttler — rather than late call-up Ben Foakes — will keep wicket if Bairstow is not fit.
England’s players have been warned to be careful because of the unfolding political crisis in Sri Lanka.
Former national captain Arjuna Ranatunga, now Minister for Petroleum Resources, was arrested on Monday.
It came a day after his security staff opened fire at Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters — killing one and injuring two others outside his office.
An England spokesman said: “We are in contact with the British High Commission. We are exercising vigilance and avoiding large political gatherings.”