With the last test of the series against India cancelled officially due to a Covid outbreak in the Indian ranks and unofficially due to the Indian players and board prioritizing the IPL over test cricket, I offer up detailed suggestions for the upcoming Ashes tour.
A BIG SQUAD NEEDED
In view of the situation, with Covid still very much with us, and Australia unlikely to allow reinforcements to be flown in mid-series England will need a large squad to give themselves a chance of getting through the tour. Thus the bulk of this post will look at 22 players who I have arranged into two teams who might contest a warm-up match. Before I get into that part of the post I need to clear up a few details, and after I have finished I will mention a couple of other players of promise.
PLAYERS NOT COVERED
IN THIS POST
There are some well known names who for various reasons do not feature in the main part of the post:
- Players who are hors de combat for various reasons: Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are both definitely unavailable due to injuries, and even if Stuart Broad recovers in time to make the tour an away Ashes series is probably not advisable for someone coming back from a serious injury. Ben Stokes must also be regarded as unavailable at present – until and unless he himself states that he is ready to return to the side he should not be a factor in anyone’s calculations.
- Players who are surplus to test requirements: I have seen enough of Moeen Ali, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow to be certain that none of them belong in the test arena. Ali averages less than 29 with the bat, almost 37 with the ball and appears to be on the decline into the bargain, Bairstow had one good 12 month period starting in December 2015, but either side of that has consistently averaged in the mid 20s in a career that spans nine years, while Malan has produced one major test innings in his life and is now in his mid 30s.
- Players I do not think need to play a warm up fixture, though they will be in the squad: Joe Root and Jos Buttler. The former would give whichever side he was part of a huge advantage, while we all know what the latter is capable of.
- Tom Haines: Sussex, left handed opening batter. This season has been a breakout one for the youngster (23 years old), with him averaging close to 50 with the bat for his county.
- Alex Davies: Warwickshire (leaving Lancashire at the end of this season), right handed opening batter, occasional wicket keeper. He has had two strong seasons in a row (is avergaing 48 this season), and the fact that in retaliation for his decision to move to Warwickshire Lancashire have been vindictive enough to drop him (a classic example of cutting the nose off to spite the face) should have no bearing on whether or not he gets picked for this party.
- *Tom Abell: Somerset, right handed batter, occasional medium pace bowler, captain. He has been superb for Somerset this season and is an excellent skipper.
- Harry Brook: Yorkshire, right handed batter. The 22 year old Yorkshireman has a modest overall record but has been excellent this season and appears to have a fine temperament.
- Ollie Pope: Surrey, right handed batter, occasional keeper. Has an awesome record for Surrey but has yet to translate this to a higher level, though he did score 81 in the first innings of the last test at his home ground, and appears one of two genuine candidate for this slot.
- Oliver George Robinson: Kent, wicket keeper, right handed batter. The 23 year old is one of a number of talented young keeper batters that England have available to them.
- Matt Critchley: Derbyshire, right handed batter, leg spinner. His bowling does not quite allow him to be called an all rounder, but he has been batting well for Derbyshire of late, and his leg spin is not entirely to be disregarded.
- Craig Overton: Somerset, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed batter. As Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett showed a decade ago extra height can be a valuable asset in Australia, and the giant Devonian has it in spades. He is also a more than handy batter to have coming at eight.
- Mark Wood: Durham, right arm fast bowler, right handed lower order batter. With Archer and Stone both hors de combat he is the only express bowler England can seriously consider (Brydon Carse, his Durham team mate, is just as quick but has an uninspiring red ball record, and I have come to hate seeing players picked for test cricket based on white ball performances).
- Jack Leach: Somerset, left arm orthodox spinner, left handed lower order batter. He is the only current England spinner with a respectable test record (62 wickets in 16 matches at 29.98 – so almost four wickets a game and an average the right side of 30). In first class cricket there are a couple of spinners with cheaper averages than his 26 per wicket, but they have many fewer wickets than he does. It is one of the great absurdities of the last couple of years that he has not been England’s first choice spinner on a regular basis.
- James Anderson: Lancashire, right arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. England’s all time leading wicket taker. He was the leading wicket taker in the series last time England won in Australia a decade ago, and there is little sign of his powers waning for all that he turned 39 during this season
This side contains a solid top five, a talented keeper/batter at six, a player in good batting for at seven, and a well balanced front four bowlers, with support available from Critchley’s leg spin and Abell’s medium pace. Now it is time for a look at the opposition…
- *Rory Burns: Surrey, left handed opening batter, captain. Only one English batter not named Root has scored a test ton in 2021, this man. He also has two fifties in his last three innings and is showing signs of forming a successful opening partnership with…
- Haseeb Hameed: Nottinghamshire, right handed opening batter. Having begun a renaissance after moving from Lancashire following a couple of lean seasons he announced his return to form to a wider audience when he scored a ton for the County Select XI v The Indians. His subsequent recall to the test ranks has seen two fifties in three innings back, both coming in century stands with Burns.
- James Bracey:Gloucestershire, right handed batter, occasional wicket keeper. A typical moment in recent England selection history saw this man make his test debut in his second favourite role and batting way out of position at number seven. Not altogether surprisingly he fared poorly on that occasion, but he deserves another chance, this time in his proper position and preferred role.
- Liam Livingstone: Lancashire, right handed batter, occasional purveyor of both off and leg spin. Has a good FC record, although he is better known for his white ball exploits.
- Dan Lawrence: Essex, right handed batter, occasional off spinner. He and Pope are the principal contenders for the no5 slot, and both have shown promise with neither staking an unassailable claim to the place.
- +Ben Foakes: Surrey, right handed batter, wicket keeper. The best English keeper currently playing the game and a fine middle order batter. I put him at six to insulate him just a bit from batting with the tail – nos 7 and 8 can both be counted as all rounders and the no9 is better than most lower order batters.
- Chris Woakes: Warwickshire, right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. With the colossus Stokes having to be regarded as hors de combat this man is the best all rounder available to England, and he would walk into almost any test side. His return to test action against India at The Oval saw him take a good haul of wickets, score a 50 and offer some decent resistance in the second innings when England were slumping.
- Liam Patterson-White: Nottinghamshire, left arm orthodox spinner, left handed batter. He recently reached a maiden first class hundred at the expense of Somerset, and his wickets in that match took his bowling average below 30. His temperament appears to be excellent as well. He has less FC experience than anyone else in either side.
- Oliver Edward Robinson: Sussex, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower middle order batter. He has had a sensational start to his test career, and as a bowler who uses his great height to cause opponents problems he may well enjoy bowling in the homeland of Glenn McGrath. His batting can also be valuable.
- Matt Parkinson: Lancashire, leg spinner, right handed lower order batter. After 29 first class games the young leg spinner has 93 wickets at 23.95. That average is excellent, but there is a concern over the relatively low wickets per game ratio. Nevertheless I feel that he deserves a place in this tour party – no current English spinner with over 5oFC wickets has taken them more cheaply than the Lancastrian.
- Saqib Mahmood: Lancashire, right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter. He has 70 wickets in FC cricket at 26 a piece and is quite sharp.
This side contains a good top five, one of the greatest of all wicket keepers, genuine all rounders at seven and eight, a bowler who can bat at nine and two excellent bowlers to round out the XI.
I conclude this section with a graphic:
ODDS AND ENDS
This section looks at a few other players who may be on the radar before long:
- English off spinners have generally struggled down under (even Graeme Swann paid almost 40 per wicket in 2010-11, and failed to make it through the 2013-14 series), which is why none feature in my selections. There are two whose current records suggest they may make the grade eventually: Jack Carson of Sussex and Amar Virdi of Surrey.
- Dan Moriarty, a left arm orthodox spinner, has a remarkable record in his fledgling first class career and may well be a candidate for elevation in the near future.
- Luke Hollman, a leg spinning all rounder, has recently recorded a ten wicket match haul for Middlesex, and he may be a candidate in future.
- When qualified for England Ricardo Vasconcelos of Northamptonshire will be a candidate for a top order berth.
- Various fast medium bowlers whose chief weapon is accuracy have been overlooked because bowlers of that type rarely make much impact down under: Ben Coad, Sam Cook, Jamie Porter and Ben Sanderson are four who have very fine county records.
Please feel free to comment with suggestions of your own.
Well done for making it to the end of this post and enjoy my usual sign off…