So, with the cricket world cup almost over, it’s time to start thinking about the main event of the cricketing summer: the Ashes! In the last installment England were once again soundly beaten down under, but they haven’t lost at home for 18 years. On paper both sides have some top players, so it looks like it could be the closest series since 2005. To ensure they come out on top England will need to sort some big issues at the top of their order.
England won their main home series last summer comfortably against India, but the Australians are likely to prove a tougher challenge, especially as they are desperate to win in England for the first time since 2001!
In their most recent test match England won, but it was a dead rubber as they were already 2–0 down in the series against the West Indies. In the first 2 tests of that series England made some very poor scores: 77, 246, 187 and 132.
Between the India victory at home and the defeat in the West Indies, England dispatched a poor Sri Lanka side which didn’t tell us much.
When it comes to personnel, England have a wealth of fast bowling options and plenty of quality in the wicket-keeping department. There are some issues around spin bowling and big question marks at the top of the batting.
The last test team in the West Indies was
In the previous games of that series and the two previous series several other players also played at least some games (exc. Cook who has retired): Foakes, Malan, S. Curran, Rashid, Leach. Over a slightly longer term, since the retirements of Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and more recently Alastair Cook, England have experimented with lots of batsmen: Jennings, Burns, Ballance, Malan, Vince, Denly, Pope, Robson, Lyth, Stoneman
First the bowling. Jofra Archer is almost certain to come in to the side, with the person most likely to miss out Mark Wood. Stuart Broad will not be certain of his place unless he can deliver against the Aussies as he has in previous series. The player I most feel for here is Chris Woakes who is a talented swing bowler who is handy with the bat too. The good news for Woakes is that he ought to get his opportunity when James Anderson eventually retires. He and Wood are both waiting in the wings if Stuart Broad doesn’t deliver.
Moeen Ali is highly likely to play as the experiment last year with Adil Rashid in the test side wasn’t successful, whilst Moeen takes wickets regularly and if he can refind his form with the bat that really enhances the strength of the side.
Keaton Jennings has had enough chances and has consistently demonstrated he has a problem against good quality pace bowling. He made most of his England runs against spin. In the face of the quality Australian attack he looks vulnerable.
Rory Burns is currently in reasonable form with an average of 42 in the county championship but such an average doesn’t inspire confidence in the face of an Australian seam attack.
James Vince flatters to deceive, consistently getting starts and not going on, and that’s against the white ball, let alone the more difficult red.
Malan doesn’t seem suited to English test conditions and Denly, Pope, Robson, Lyth and Stoneman no longer seem to be in the frame.
The stand-outs from the county championship are Gary Ballance (av. 60), Sam Northeast (av. 60) and Dom Sibley (av. 70)
Sibley is a top‑3 batsman who currently opens for Warwickshire with the highest average int he county championship after Joe Root.
Northeast has been on the edge of an England callup for some time and offers a more experienced head that could be valuable in an inexperienced top‑3 although he more usually plays at number 4.
Ballance has previous England experience and a better test average (37) than any of the other recent England experiments, although his scores have typically been against teams from the subcontinent, rather than sides with a strong pace attack.
Another possible candidate for selection is England 1‑day and T20 star opener Jason Roy who has been instrumental to England’s success in the shorter forms of the game. Can he emulate Jos Buttler and take his success against the white ball and apply it against the more difficult (swinging) red ball? Roy has never played a test match for England, but his one-day record is impressive, with an average of 42 at a strike rate of 107. His first class average of 38 suggests he can play against the red ball in English conditions. He also has experience against Australian bowlers from playing Big Bash, and is unlikely to be over-awed by the occasion.
Of all these candidates I have the most confidence in Jason Roy, the only question being can he adapt his game to the red ball. He plays well against the white ball as an opener, and the white ball does often swing in the first couple of overs.
I would also be inclined to pick Sam Northeast at 3, as I think personality is an important factor in an Ashes series. He has a reputation for being a calm head with plenty of experience. He is also in good form which is important coming into an Ashes side.
That just leaves the opener to partner Jason Roy up for grabs. I think taking a risk with Sibley is worth it given his youth and the relatively good experience around the rest of the team.
So my first Ashes team would be
If I had to guess, I’d expect England to persist with Rory Burns, at the expense of either Sibley or Northeast. I would be surprised if the selectors decide not to pick either Ali or Broad, but they seem the most at risk from the rest. If Anderson isn’t fit then I would expect Chris Woakes to come in on the back of his success in the ODI format and because he brings a bit of lower order resistance with the bat.
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