A few days ago the England squad for the upcoming Ashes tour was announced. They opted for a squad of 17, and picked the following players:
In the rest of this post I will look at the problems with this party and then name the XI I would pick for the Gabba.
FOUR SELECTION HOWLERS
There are four players who certainly should not be in the squad. First is Jonathan Bairstow, a great white ball player whose test career comprises one fat year (Dec 2015 to Dec 2016) and eight lean ones. His place should have been given the Ben Foakes, who has been shamefully treated by the England selectors over the last few years.
Second is Dom Bess. English off spinners have generally struggled in Australia. Swann, the best English offie of my lifetime, paid almost 40 per scalp on the successful 2010-11 trip and broke down midway through the 2013-14 trip. Bess is nowhere near being in the same class as Swann, and is a disaster waiting to happen in Australia. This place should have been given to one of Matt Parkinson (pays 23.5 per first class wicket) or if you want more batting depth available Liam Patterson-White (left arm spin bowling all rounder) or Matt Critchley (batter who bowls leg spin and has had a fine season).
Third is Zak Crawley, a man who averages 11 in test cricket since his sole major innings at that level. Tom Abell should have been selected to fill the no three slot, with the bonus that he can offer some support in the bowling department with his medium pace and that if he manages to establish himself at test level he will be a serious candidate to replace Root as skipper when the time comes.
Fourth is Dawid Malan, a man now in his mid-thirties whose test average is rather less than his age. I would have selected Tom Haines as reserve opener in place of Malan.
I will not deem it a mistake but I also have concerns about two veteran seamers, Anderson and Broad both being named in the tour party. Neither have the greatest records in Australia and the likelihood of both of them being fit for the whole of a five match series seems small. Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are both crocked, but a gamble on the extra pace of Saqib Mahmood or Brydon Carse might have been taken.
AN XI FOR THE GABBA
Having laid out my most pressing concerns about the tour party and established the like the Irishman being asked for directions “I wouldn’t have started from here” it is time to select an XI for the Gabba:
The opening pair presents no problems – Burns and Hameed have two century stands in three innings and to break them up at this point would be positively frolicking with disaster.
No three is tougher, but since he is in the party it makes sense to stick with Malan for all my entirely justified misgivings about him.
No four is the one position that no one will argue about – Joe Root, the skipper, retains his regular slot.
Number five is a close call between two players who have yet to fully establish themselves at test level, and I opt for Ollie Pope over Dan Lawrence – Aussie pitches should suit Pope.
Number six is Jos Buttler, the keeper (no six is his best position, and the balance of the side also dictates that he should bat there).
Chris Woakes has to be at seven if one wants four genuine seam options and a spinner, and his record batting at seven in tests is stellar (albeit from a small sample size).
Ollie Robinson has inked himself into the side given the way he has performed in his test career to date, and he is well capable of batting at no eight.
Mark Wood is the only genuinely fast bowler in the squad, and the Gabba should suit him (I would spare him from the thankless task of attempting to extract life from the Adelaide Oval, as I suspect he will need a bit of nursing to get through the series).
There is only one spinner of genuine test standard in the squad, and with possibly exception of Perth he should play every match, so Jack Leach gets in at number ten.
At number eleven is England’s all time leading test wicket taker, James Anderson.
This side (Burns, Hameed, Malan, *Root, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Robinson, Wood, Leach, Anderson) is slightly short on batting, with two of the top five definitely unproven (Pope may change that, but I actually regard Malan as proven in the wrong way – provenly not good enough) but does have the bowling resources to take 20 wickets at less than ruinous cost with Anderson, the height of Robinson, the pace of Wood, the spin of Leach and Woakes as fourth seamer. Here courtesy of Wisden is a picture of my team:
Time for my usual sign off: