After screaming at the telly every time England named an unbalanced side in the recent ODI series, how refreshing it was to see the Ashes touring party today. The selectors actually got things right – and I challenge anyone who disagrees with me to a fist-fight in the Walkabout.
As you know, we’re prone to strong opinions here at TFT. As I tuned in to the squad announcement at lunchtime today, my typing fingers were primed to explode. Surely there would be the odd shock selection: the inclusion of a useless journeyman from Essex, or a bloke who had perfected the art of brown-nosing Ashley Giles at Warwickshire.
Thankfully I was wrong. The selection was absolutely spot on; therefore the only thing I’ve got to moan about is the fact I’ve got nothing to moan about. I happen agree 100% with every 50:50 decision Miller, Giles and Co have made.
For starters, the squad gives Flower and Cook a plethora of options. There’s a reserve opener so Joe Root can move down the order if needs be; remember, we didn’t take a reserve opener at all in 2010. Furthermore, the identity of that opener was Michael Carberry, not Nick Compton.
As we predicted back in June, England really struggled to play positively at the start of their innings – something which enabled Harris and Co to get on top of us.
Recalling Compton would’ve done nothing to remedy the situation. Granted, Compton has been treated somewhat harshly, but there’s little room for sentiment in Ashes series down under. England have made the right call by selecting an alternative. I would’ve been happy with Chopra too, but in the circumstances the worthy Carberry will do.
I’m also pleased we’ve picked a reserve middle-order batsman. With Bairstow struggling for runs during the summer, and unlikely to be picked as a sixth specialist batsman in the foreseeable future, we needed someone a little bit different – a positive player the Aussies haven’t seen before.
Gary Balance is exactly the right man for this role. He’s pugnacious and has a superb domestic record. He might be Zimbabwean – thus adding more fuel to the England’s foreign army tag – but he’ll worry the Aussies a lot more than James Taylor would’ve done. What’s more, we’ve been crying out for a leftie in the middle-order since the sad day Graham Thorpe was deemed surplus to requirements.
England have also given themselves the option of playing five bowlers. It probably won’t happen for a while, but at the least the presence of Ben Stokes in the squad gives us hope of fielding a truly balanced team in the foreseeable future.
There’s little doubt Shane Watson’s bowling gives Australia an advantage: they can rest Harris for longer and keep him fresher for crucial moments. Jimmy Anderson faded somewhat as the Ashes went on; England are always forced to bowl him into the ground. If Stokes can become a legitimate, genuine, all-rounder, Jimmy’s career will last longer.
We should spare a thought for Chris Woakes at this juncture. His selection for the Oval test was leftfield to say the least – and it looks even more bizarre now. Whilst his bowling looked exactly what it is (probably inadequate at the highest level) he showed a calm head with the bat. To jettison him after one game, and then omit him from a squad of 17 all together is really odd.
Stokes obviously leapfrogged Woakes after showing promise in the ODIs. In fact, Giles actually said as much last week. However, Stokes actually had little chance to impress with the bat in the one-dayers – and when he did actually get to the crease, he looked nervy and unconvincing (a lot less composed than Woakes did in the Oval test to be honest). Stokes’ inclusion is therefore rather illogical. If England see him as a test number six or seven, why was he batting as low as eight in the ODIs?
The bottom line, however, is that none of this really matters. Stokes is a more talented cricketer than Woakes – he’s younger, and with more potential with both bat and ball – so it’s a good thing the selectors have finally realised this. Stokes is a proper, front-line batsman for Durham, and his bowling has a bit of mongrel. He’s not quite the finished article yet, but neither is Woakes. Furthermore, Stokes will get quicker. It’s unlikely Woakes will.
The bowling also looks strong – and the selectors must be applauded for picking our tallest, fastest bowlers. I’m not entirely sure if Tremlett is quite the same bowler he was three years ago, but he’s a better bet down under than the luckless Onions. The same applies to Boyd Rankin – who I actually expect to start the first test as the third fast bowler – and Steve Finn.
It’s impossible not to feel for Bunny Onions. He’s such a likeable bloke. However, the fact is that he’s lost a yard of pace, isn’t tall, and isn’t suited to Australian wickets. Furthermore, the Kookaburra ball only swings for a few overs. Onions might have done a good at the start of an innings, but I think he would’ve been ineffective thereafter.
Pace, bounce, and reverse swing are the attributes you need to succeed down under. You don’t necessarily need to possess all these attributes, but you need at least one. Onions is a cult hero, but as we said earlier, you don’t pick Ashes squads on sentiment.
The other slightly controversial selection was that of Monty. Once again, the selectors are right to pick him – even if his off-field behaviour, and his performances in New Zealand last year, hardly warrant it.
The fact is the Mont-ster is the only available spinner England can rely on not to totally balls things up if Graeme Swann gets injured. Nobody would advocate picking Kerrigan after his nightmare at The Oval; and talking of nightmares, James Tredwell had a whole series of nightmares in the recent ODIs. Tredders is a dependable ODI bowler (usually!) but his first class record last year was worse than dire.
Having eliminated Kerrigan and Tredwell, who else were England realistically going to turn to? Gareth Batty? Give me a break. Unfortunately, there are no other test class spinners in English domestic cricket. There are a few useful players, like Scott Borthwick, but none capable of holding their own in a four-man attack.
After our performances at home this year, in which we failed to score 400 in a single innings (even against New Zealand), I was a little concerned we’d be in for a rude awakening this winter. However, with the selection of this England squad, a group of players oozing with talent and versatility, I feel a lot more confident now. Let’s get down to Australia and remind the Canary Yellows who’s boss.
Squad: Cook (capt), Carberry, Root, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Ballance, Bairstow (wkt), Prior (wkt), Stokes, Broad, Anderson, Finn, Tremlett, Rankin, Swann, Panesar.