Have you cracked a smile since the Sydney Test? I almost smiled once when I heard Donald Trump describe himself as ‘a genius’, but this was more of a scoff than anything else. I’m afraid the rain clouds are still firmly ensconced above my bonce.
We’ve done the broader reasons for England’s Ashes capitulation to death so now it’s time to focus on the individual players. England lost because we don’t have any genuine pace or high class spin – a failure the ECB must answer for – so we weren’t able to fight fire with fire.
Australia’s attack was excellent and their batsmen were able to make big scores against our powder-puff ‘artillery’. It was always going to be thus. The score might have been closer had our senior batsmen made bigger runs, but ultimately the Ashes were always going to be surrendered.
It doesn’t take a Trump to work out that England need bowlers who can be effective in all conditions if we’re to progress as a team. We also need batsmen who have the courage, skill and technique to flourish against fast bowling, plus the fleetness of foot required to cope with quality spinners.
And so, with this in mind, we run the rule over England’s Ashes squad and ask ‘stick’ or ‘twist’? I don’t care that we’ve got a home series against India this summer. It’s all about playing the long game now. In the next year we play New Zealand, the West Indies and Sri Lanka (as well as that home series against India) so it’s the perfect time to blood new players and breathe new life into the test team.
Alastair Cook – Ashes rating 4 out of 10
I apologise for being a smartarse, but Cook’s series confirmed what I’ve always though about Alastair. When conditions are benign, and his technique isn’t tested, he’ll bat until the cows come home. But when he’s facing top class bowling he’ll be exposed more often than not.
Some might say Alastair is on the decline but I disagree. He’s the same player he’s always been. The only difference now is that more people are beginning to recognise that his iron rod is actually made from something more permeable.
Although some might give Cook a lower mark for passing 40 just once in nine attempts, I’ve been relatively kind because it was his double hundred – albeit made on a featherbed with Starc missing and Cummins ill – that saved us from the ignominy of another series whitewash.
Therefore I’m happy for Alastair to stay in the side for now – if only because there are no obvious candidates to replace him. What’s more, scoring big tons in benign conditions is still a useful ability to have. I won’t be surprised if Cook bolsters his career statistics further by scoring a lot of relatively easy runs in the next 12 months.
Mark Stoneman – 3/10
He looked good for a couple of tests, right? Yes he certainly did. Stoneman looked composed, compact, and a lot more accomplished than his opening partner in Brisbane and Adelaide. However, it all went a bit pear-shaped after Mark was hit on the head at Perth. The Aussie pacemen smelt blood and pummelled him with chin music. It soon became apparent that Stoneman’s hands were always in the wrong position when he played the short ball. His performances disintegrated as a result.
There are two ways to look at Stoneman. Either you think he showed enough promise to warrant a second chance, or you shrug your shoulders and place him in the same bracket as Robson, Lyth, and Jennings – who all made hundreds at the start of their test careers but were soon found out. My gut feeling is that Stoneman is probably just another Lyth and Robson … but without the early hundred to buy him extra time. And at the age of 30 (he’ll be 31 next summer) is he really worth persevering with?
James Vince 3/10
We could’ve written this report before the series. Everyone knew he’d look a million dollars at times but ultimately disappoint and frustrate. That’s who James Vince is.
Jim, Gus, and Mick must have been the only people in the world who thought Vince warranted his place in England’s squad. The fact he only averages 38 in first class cricket, despite his prodigious talent, should have given them a clue.
If Vince’s problems were technical rather than mental, I’d be more inclined to give him another go. However, because he’s about to turn 27 years old, and he’s always been exactly the same player, I doubt he’ll ever change.
Joe Root 6/10
Averaged over 40 and looked our best batsman by miles. We expected as much from Joe. He’s a class act. However, this penchant for tossing his wicket away like a used condom has to stop. If he wants to be as good as Steve Smith – and there’s no doubt he has just as much (if not more) natural talent – then he really must start converting more 50s into 100s.
Joe’s captaincy wasn’t great at times but I’m pleased that England kept trying until the end. This tells me that the dressing room respects him and works hard for him. I guess we’ve just got to get used to his occasional ‘eccentricities’ in the field. After all, he’s learning captaincy on the job (which isn’t really his fault).
I personally think that Joe will develop into a good captain and leader in time. Note to Ricky Ponting: Root might look a bit like a schoolboy, but at least he doesn’t look like Jimmy Cranky chewing a wasp.
Verdict: Stick (as both batsman and captain).
Dawid Malan – 7/10
Our Dawid was on the fringes of selection for nine years, finally got a go, and looked rather good! Where has he been? Although he was billed as a white ball specialist, he actually had a perfect temperament for test cricket. How can someone get miscast so badly? I’m glad he proved his doubters (which included me) wrong.
Now he’s proven he can score runs on the toughest of tours, England should stick with Malan. I suspect he’ll have his ups and downs – he might find home runs harder to come by as he doesn’t move his feet much – but the signs are obviously good.
Garry Balance – NA
Although I’ve never been a fan of Gaz’s batting, it seems harsh to drop him when he hasn’t actually played a game this winter. Unfortunately however, that’s exactly what needs to happen.
Jonny Bairstow – 6/10
Ah yes, Mr Bairstow. The (head)butt of all jokes. It was a strange tour for Jonny. He kept better than I expected but batted slightly worse. I was hoping he’d dominate at times, and show what a fine player he is. Unfortunately this never really happened, even though he scored at good hundred at Perth. I also thought his runs were a bit streaky at times. For some reason he wasn’t quite himself.
Having said that, an average in the high 30s was a respectable return and he’ll be a key player for many years to come. He’s probably the only England batsman apart from Root who would make a combined XI.
Moeen Ali – 2/10
Oh Mo. I love you so. But it’s time for you to go.
Moeen is one of my favourite cricketers. He’s brought me huge enjoyment over the years. However, this tour has exposed why his critics were right (and I was wrong) all along.
Unfortunately Mo simply isn’t a test quality spinner, and he’s not improving either. Yes he had injury problems on this tour; but isn’t there always an excuse when Mo goes abroad? Overseas is when we need a good spinner most, and I’m beginning to think that Mo’s tremendous home performances aren’t enough.
England now need to invest in a younger spinner who might develop like Nathan Lyon. Mo therefore has to justify his place as a specialist batsman or go back to Worcestershire (who need him more). I won’t mind him playing as a second spinner / all rounder in Sri Lanka though.
Verdict – Twist (sad face)
Chris Woakes – 4/10
The mighty Woakes wasn’t particularly mighty down under. In fact, I’m a little concerned about his future now. Is he the seam bowling equivalent of Mo? He’s just as ineffective abroad.
Fortunately there’s still plenty to like about Woakes as a cricketer. He’s usually composed with the bat and capable of good spells with the ball. The problem is he’ll be 29 years old this summer, and that extra yard of pace he found a couple of years ago isn’t going to last long. And what then?
I’m tempted to say ‘twist’ here, but I’m going to stick with him due to a lack of alternatives … and because, like me, he supports Aston Villa. The poor sod.
Stuart Broad – 3/10
One good game isn’t good enough I’m afraid. One expects more from a so-called English ‘great’. I’ve long argued that Broad is excellent when he’s operating above 85mph but a tad buffet when he’s operating at medium pace. And at the age of 31 (he’ll turn 32 in June) he’s not going to get any quicker now.
People forget that Broad made his test debut in Sri Lanka over ten years ago. There’s a lot of miles on the clock now. Is it any surprise that he’s only taken one test five-fer in the last two years? Age withers us all.
Unfortunately I think it’s time for old Stu Pot to have a blow (possibly a permanent one). I don’t see the point of keeping him in the team for one more crack at India when Craig Overton is probably a better long-term option.
Craig Overton – 6/10
I wasn’t convinced when Overton got picked for the Ashes but he turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He’d added a yard of pace since I last saw him and he might get (a bit) quicker still. It also helps that Overton is almost two metres tall and bowls a somewhat heavy ball. There’s a lot to like.
Although I doubt he’ll ever tear up trees for England, I think he’ll be a very useful change bowler. He’s also got that ‘club cricketer’ demeanour that supporters love. He’s a big guy, somewhat agricultural, and looks a like an angry farmer wielding a pitchfork when a batsman edges him through the slips for four.
Overton also likes to give the ball a lusty biff when batting. He’s got potential cult hero written all over him.
Jake Ball – 3/10
The Brisbane test feels like an age ago. And that’s probably a good thing for Ball who generally bowled like a drain at the Gabba.
It’s hard to know what to make of him at this point. His supporters will claim that he wasn’t fully fit in his one appearance, and that’s he’s tall, young, and possesses a yard of pace. But is he really that quick? I’m not so sure. And he’s certainly not that young. He just hasn’t played much first class cricket.
I’m in two minds whether to stick or twist here, but I’m going to go with the former – if only because I enjoy rooting for guys who make the simple act of running look painfully laborious.
Tom Curran – 3/10
What a shame that I can’t give marks for effort alone. Try as he might – and boy did he try – Curran looked about as likely to take wickets at Gary Ballance looked like scoring runs. And that’s pretty hard to do when you’re carrying drinks all day.
I suspect that Curran was an Andy Flower recommendation – picked on attitude rather than ability. It’s a bit like Liam Dawson all over again. Still, Curran is a young bloke and time is on his side. Maybe he’ll find that extra yard of pace (or two) that he needs?
Jimmy Anderson 7/10
I really wanted to give Jimmy an 8, as a return of 17 wickets at 28 was a very respectable effort on dead pitches. However, although he was our best bowler by miles, we can’t forget how badly both Anderson and Broad bowled in the first innings at Adelaide. That was a crucial moment in the series and our experienced heads really let us down.
Having said that, this Ashes tour has probably enhanced Jimmy’s stellar reputation. Although he’s 35 years old he bowled more overs than anyone else – a remarkable statistic. What’s more, I think he’s just as good as he’s always been. Can he play for another couple years? I certainly hope so as otherwise we’re screwed.
Mason Crane – 4/10
Is he the new Shane Warne? Is he the new Stuart MacGill. No. He’s Mason Crane. Sorry to disappoint everyone.
It seemed pretty clear at Sydney that Adil Rashid should’ve been picked ahead of Crane for this series. I don’t buy this ‘Adil gets intimidated’ nonsense. He bowled at Kohli and Co in India and picked up four wickets in three innings (from memory) and was our leading wicket taker. He’s also our ODI spinner of choice, and you’ve got to be somewhat resilient to be successful in white ball cricket.
Having said that, Crane probably has more potential than Rashid. Therefore I’d like to see him stay around the team – if only because he’s probably going to get more cricket with England than Hampshire!
Verdict – Stick
Trevor Bayliss – ?
I can’t really give Bayliss a mark because nobody knows what he does. In theory he coaches the team – although we keep reading that he’s very hands-off. And in theory he creates an environment in which players can thrive – although we keep losing games. Having said that he can only work with the players at his disposal. And getting our motley crew to win down under is like asking Donald Trump to make cake out of sand. Not even a genius can do that.
The ECB has already announced that Bayliss will step down at the end of his contract in 2019, but he’ll be lucky to hang around that long if we lose the upcoming ODIs too.
At the end of the day, I can’t help thinking we’d be better off with a coach who knows county cricket. We need to find some new players, and I don’t trust Jim, Mick and Gus to identify diamonds in the rough like Duncan Fletcher used to do. The head coach has to help out.
Verdict – Twist
And finally …
Ben Stokes – minus 10 out of 10
Good old Ben, or should I say the un-caped crusader, managed to condemn his team without bowling a single ball. That’s quite an achievement really. However, he can stay in England’s thoughts as long as he promises to grow up.
Not that I’d tell him that to his face … in a nightclub … at 2am.
What do you all think?