The Red Ball Returns

With the World Cup triumph in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to think ahead to The Ashes. And first up we have a one-off test against Ireland. The game should be an occasion in itself, although I’m sure England will have one eye on the Aussies. After all, the selectors have decided to rest a couple of key players: Jos Butter and Ben Stokes. Meanwhile, Jofra Archer has a sore side and needs to rest for an as yet unspecified period of time.

The absence of Archer, plus Mark Wood, who has broken down yet again, is a massive shame. Having the World Cup this close to the Ashes was always going to take its toll, and it looks like irritating injuries to our two fastest bowlers are the price we’ve paid. I was really looking forward to the Archer / Wood axis unleashing hell on the Australian batsmen. Now it seems we’ll have to wait until at least the second test. The bookies don’t think it will affect our chances though. If you bet on England you’ll enjoy a nice Bet365 bonus for the sign up. This might change, however, if we somehow contrive to lose against the Irish because we’re still nursing nasty World Cup hangovers. I can’t see this happening though.

So who have England included instead of Stokes, Buttler, and Archer? Unfortunately there’s no Ben Foakes, even in the pre-Ashes ‘camp’. Instead the selectors are happy with Bairstow alone which seems a shame. I wondered if they would move Jonny up the order and give Foakes another go, especially as Jonny’s bound to score a century if he’s forced to relinquish the gloves and has another tantrum.

The interesting names in the squad this time are Olly Stone, who seems like a natural replacement for Archer, and the slightly more leftfield appearance of Lewis Gregory. I really like Gregory as a cricketer, and he’s having an outstanding season with Somerset, but I’m not entirely sure he should be in the test squad. I see his inclusion as a reflection of (a) Ed Smith’s flawed fetish for all-rounders, and (b) his desire to recognise outstanding achievement in the championship. Personally I’d prefer the selectors to focus on specialists who can make an impact all over the world. I don’t see how the selection of archetypal medium-fast English seamers achieves that really but never mind.

With that sentiment in mind I’m thrilled that Stone is still on the selectors’ radar. He’s fast and nasty and exactly what we need. I’m also chuffed that Jack Leach has been included – although Moeen Ali will surely get the nod if they only pick one spinner. Although Leach is a better bowler than Mo, one can’t argue with the latter’s record in England.

The other noteworthy inclusions in the squad are Jimmy Anderson and Joe Denly. I’m not sure why Jimmy has been included because he’s nursing an injury. Surely the management won’t take any chances with our best bowler? Meanwhile, Denly is a player who continues to divide opinion. His appearance in this squad suggests that he’s odds on to bat at 3 in the Ashes.

What do you make of Denly? I’m torn. Like Ed Smith I rated him highly as a youngster and I’ve always been surprised that he never fulfilled his potential. He’s obviously a frustrating player but I do think his batting still possesses a touch of class sometimes. We’re not exactly blessed when it comes to alternatives either; so why not give Denly another go? The alternative was probably James Vince, who’s a very similar player who has had even more opportunities without convincing anyone.

Finally I should briefly mention Jason Roy. It looks like, as expected, he’ll be parachuted into the Ashes team as a specialist opener on the back of his World Cup performances – despite having never opened in a first class game for Surrey. He batted at 3 in a couple of games last year but that’s as high as he’s been without suffering a nosebleed.

I really don’t know what to make of Roy’s selection. I don’t like it in many ways but equally I recognise that options are thin on the ground. Why not give the bloke a go? He’s got the talent. I just hope we see the Roy who looked so dominant against India and Australia (when the pitches were flat) rather than the one who struggled in the final against New Zealand (when the ball moved around).

Roy’s success will probably depend on the conditions again I expect. Well, if he’s going to be England’s Virender Sehwag then he might as well be as Virender Sehwag-ish as possible.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with BR Agency


  • Like your analogy of Roy and Sehwag, champagne cricketers both. Like you, glad to see Stone getting the nod. If you’re looking for someone to fill the Stokes boots don’t see the problem with Gregory in principle. You’re not going to find another Stokes in a hurry.
    With Root still seemingly reluctant to make everyone’s life easier and bat at 3, I suppose Denly is a natural alternative if you’re going with Vince again. Haven’t been impressed by him so far. His bowling looks below par for test cricket and he doesn’t present a confident demeanour in the field or at the crease. Does he believe he’s good enough?
    I would play Anderson in this game as he’s had such little cricket recently and better he break down before the first test than during it. I don’t believe this present Aussie outfit presents a ‘we must have Jimmy’ challenge, though undoubtedly his absence would be a major plus for their morale. I believe we do have a number of decent seam bowling options capable of troubling their in and out batting.

    • Jimmy will be fine – he knows his body. I personally wouldn’t play him v Ireland but they know best.

  • Wouldn’t the Ireland game be the perfect time to get a look at Sibley? Opportunity lost?

    • Very different attack. What do you do if he gets a couple of 50s against a second rate bowling outfit?

  • What does everyone think the team will be for the first Ashes test? I’m saying the following, although could easily be Broad instead of Woakes:
    1 Burns
    2 Roy
    3 Denly
    4 Root
    5 Stokes
    6 Buttler
    7 Bairstow
    8 Ali
    9 Woakes
    10 Archer
    11 Anderson

    • The word is that Archer won’t be fit until the second test. This is the team I think England will pick – which is different from the XI I would pick.

      Buttler – 5/7 are interchangeable

      Moeen will be picked as the first and only spinner because his record in England is very good. He averages 30 with a strike rate not dissimilar to Swann. It’s overseas where he’s struggled as a bowler. I do agree, however, that Leach is probably a better pure bowler.

      I think it will come down to a choice between Broad and Woakes (although I would pick both and leave out Curran). However, I’d also make sure that Stone plays because we desperately need some pace. It’s very difficult to pick the attack we need if Root stays at 4 and Denly plays at 3.

      • If Woakes does not play with a red Duke ball in swinging English conditions he may as well retire from tests today. And if the miltary medium of Sam Curran is preferred it will be the most ludicrous selection since Tony Pigott (although at least that was due to injuries). As for Broad, he has looked distinctly out of sorts in the Championship – so if Gregory gets selected on Championship form you would expect Broad to be omitted for the same.

  • We know what Denly and Vince are like so why not go for Sibley for the Ireland Test? Anyone who can bat for 7 hours and score 240, even on a flat track, should be given a chance. Wouldn’t bother with Ali, play Leach certainly in the Ashes. Try Broad for Ireland, but he’s done nothing for Notts this year and looks laboured in the field. And yep, give Gregory a go, looked very good at Taunton when I saw him. Err.. don’t forget Sam Curran either. Top 4: Burns, Roy, Sibley, Root, who must bat 4 not 3 please.

    • Even as a Warwickshire man I am not sure about Sibley. Good season but he has flattered to deceive in the past. But if there is a time for experiment it is against Ireland and at least he is a proper red ball bat rather than a through the line banger who cannot handle movement.

  • With Wood and Archer out for the 1st test you need a strike bowler to partner Anderson if he’s fit. I’m not sure Woakes is a test opener. I would go for Broad as I feel he’s more a big game player..Botham often had mediocre form for Somerset when he was performing well in tests. Don’t see the point in either Curran at present, for me they’re for the future. Broad, Anderson, Woakes and Stokes is a decent seam attack with 2 swing and 2 seam. For me Stokes has to start being given more responsibility with the ball and we need to find out if Bairstow has what it takes behind the stumps, to warrant the continued omission of Foakes. Would love to see Leach given a go as well, but I feel Moin is still favourite at present, despite his World Cup form.

  • Oh dear James, you never allow facts to get in the way of personal bias, Roy has never batted higher than number 3……..

    • Roy opened in the County Championship for Surrey in his early career a few times when the dreadful Chris Adams was in charge. It didn’t work so he was dropped down to 5 or 6 which worked well, particularly when Surrey were 200/4 because it suited his style of play. I believe he is more selective these days with his shots, so I think it’s worth a gamble with him in the Tests at 2 or 3. Nothing to loose and just maybe it might work.
      On the bowling front we cannot keep playing both Broad and Anderson together. Both are in the late stages of their careers and they need to appreciate that we must try new talent such as Archer. I’m not convinced Broad still has it anyway. Remember that there are 5 Tests in 6 and half weeks and you don’t want to injure a senior bowler by over playing them. I don’t see Wood or Stone as long term prospects because both are far to injury prone. It’s a shame but there are far too many injuries in cricket today, in my view caused by a lot of unsuitable training in preparation (Surrey has been plagued with injuries all season). And lastly although I know many will disagree, I think we need the Sam Curran left arm option, particularly if it’s moving around.

  • I really rate Foakes his technique as keeper and batsman is well suited to test cricket.

    As for Roy, conditions are a huge factor but the ball is round and coming down from 22 yards. We’ve persevered with stodgy left handers without success for the last 5/6 years so why not try something different.

    Bowling-wise. Anderson, Stokes, Woakes, Curran, Mo + 90mph quick should cover all bases.

    Curran has to play given his form with bat and ball for the lions, he performed well last summer incl. m.o.m. against India – the perfect no. 8.

    I’ve seen a bit of Broad down at Trent Bridge this season and although his economy has been spot on, he just hasn’t passed the bat nearly enough. That said, he’s been written off before and he does have a track record of producing ‘those spells’ in Ashes cricket.


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