There is no doubt that Joe Root’s first summer as England’s Test captain was a succsess. Both touring teams were beaten in their respective Test series – South Africa 3-1 (England’s first home series win over that country since 1998) and West Indies 2-1. An overall record of 5-2 in Test matches in 2017 must be regarded as a successful summer.
But no season is perfect and 2017 was no exception. The biggest disappointment was that the weak links in the batting order – Numbers 2,3 and 5 – are no nearer to being resolved than they were at the start of the season. Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Gary Ballance, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan have all been tried in these positions and none of them have established themselves as Test batsmen. This is still the Achilles heel of this team. Too often Alistair Cook and Joe Root have had to carry the burden of top order run scoring.
And it is definitely NOT going to get any easier for Root and England. For next on the Test team’s agenda is the toughest asingment in Test cricket – a five Test Ashes series in Australia where England will try to defend the urn down under for only the third time since 1979. So with that in mind who would I take to Australia for this toughest of all Test tours? Well I’ve come up with sixteen names that I would take to defend the urn. Most of them will definitely be on the plane to Australia some are marginal choices and one is an uncapped “bolter” that I don’t think the selectors will pick but I would. So without further ado here are the sixteen men that I would pick to try and defend the Ashes this winter.
Joe Root (captain) – No surprise here. All he needs to do is convert more fifties into hundreds like his opposite number Steve Smith does. And hopefully he won’t have to come in at 30-2 every innings….
Ben Stokes (vice-captain) – Again no surprises. His career trajectory is on the up – his batting average is now above his bowling average a key statistic for an all rounder. Two worries. Will he stay fit and can he cope with Australian provocation? He is one demerit point away from a one game ban a fact that the Aussies will doubtless remind him of. A lot….
Moeen Ali – Incredibly even at the start of the season England were saying that Liam Dawson not Ali was England’s number 1 spinner. They got that wrong. He, Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are the engine room of England’s team. One request : He should not bat at Number 8. Someone with five Test centuries should not be batting that low as too often he has to bat with the tail and try to slog. He is very good at that but he is a proper batsman and his position in the order should reflect that reality.
James Anderson – A national treasure who has now reached 500 Test wickets. On his last tour of Australia hopefully his bowling average is nearer that of 2010-11 (26.04) than 2006-7 (82.40) or 2013-14 (43.92).
Jonny Bairstow – The only English batsman who has improved since the last Ashes series in 2015. An improving wicket keeper too. Hopefully batting at No 7 he will remind the Australians of their own famous wicket keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist.
Stuart Broad – Another automatic pick who was not at his best this summer. Hopefully he can produce one of those devastating spells he is famous for. Like the Oval 2009, Lord’s and Durham 2013, Trent Bridge 2015, Johannesburg 2016….
Alistair Cook – Another automatic pick who needs to contribute for England to win. A repeat of his 2010-11 average of 127.66 is unrealistic but he needs to do better than his 2006-7 average (27.60) or his 2013-14 average (27.60).
Mason Crane – One of two uncapped players in my squad. I nearly went for Adil Rashid who was unlucky to be dropped after the India series last winter but Crane was picked last winter to play for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield. And bad players do not get picked for the Sheffield Shield. Plus it gives him the advantage of local knowledge….
Ben Foakes – And here is my second uncapped player. I’m not picking Joss Buttler for this tour as I think he has lost his enthusiasm for red ball cricket. Foakes has been called the best wicket keeper in England by former player Alec Stewart and averages over 40 in first class cricket. That is good enough for me.
Alex Hales – I would recall Hales but not as an opener. I’ve always thought he is more suited to the middle order where he is now batting for Nottinghamshire. His aggression could be useful in the middle order and I have picked him as a back up batsman ahead of Gary Ballance who has already been recalled twice and failed twice.
Haseed Hameed – The big “what if?” of English cricket. Had he not got injured during the winter tour of India he might have continued his promising start and booked his place in the England team. But he has struggled this season not scoring a century for Lancashire. But he has started to show better form and his ability to “bat long” could be vital for England. A risky selection but a risk I would be prepared to take.
Dawid Malan – Has not established himself in the team during his five Tests but I would still have him on the Ashes tour – just ahead of Tom Westley. He would not be in my first Test XI but would be a useful reserve.
Toby Roland-Jones – Made a sensational Test debut against South Africa albeit in helpful conditions. Whether or not he can emulate that performance in Australian conditions is debatable but he deserves the opportunity to try.
Mark Stoneman – Like Malan he hasn’t proved himself in his three Tests but he has made a couple of good scores and I think he has something about him.
Chris Woakes – Missed most of the season with injury which at least has the advantage of being fresh for the Ashes. One of England’s most improved players he has a key role to play with both bat and ball.
Mark Wood – In my opinion he is a vital part of England’s Ashes challenge. One weakness of England’s bowling attack is a lack of pace. Wood is the fastest bowler available to England. Unfortunately his fitness record is not good and he struggles with back to back Tests. England will hope to get two good Tests out of him while praying for more.
And the XI I would pick for the first Test at Brisbane starting on November 23 : Cook, Hameed, Stoneman, Root, Ali, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Broad, Wood and Anderson.
Are England good enough to defend the Ashes in Australia? Time will tell…