With the Ashes safely in the bag, thoughts have now turned to the UAE and South Africa. But should England be thinking even further ahead? The raison d’être of English cricket is to beat the Australians. Once one Ashes series finishes, the planning for the next one should start. This month begins a new cycle that culminates with the 2017/18 tour down under.
This is why I would be against Moeen Ali opening in the UAE. He’s never going to be anything more than a stopgap opener (because his frailty against the short ball will be exposed elsewhere in the world) so why bother? England should begin their search for a permanent partner for Cook now.
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to predict the two line-ups in the next Ashes series. Which twenty-two cricketers will take the field at the Gabba in November 2017? That’s two years and one month from now. England’s team will look somewhat different from the one that played this year. Australia’s team will be dramatically different.
Here’s my best guess what the England side will be: Alastair Cook, Alex Lees, Joe Root (capt), Sam Hain, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Ben Foakes (wct), Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Reece Topley
As you can see, I think Ian Bell and Jimmy Anderson will retire before the 2017 Ashes. I think Moeen’s bowling will improve enough to sustain his run in the side (finger spinners usually struggle down under anyway, so I can’t see us blooding a newbie), while Ben Foakes will replace Buttler as our specialist test keeper. Jos will continue to be a star in ODIs and T20s though.
I also think Cook will have relinquished the captaincy. England aren’t yet good enough to prosper in all conditions, so I expect us to lose the odd series between now and then. The inevitable criticism that will come Cook’s way will persuade him to pass the torch to Root. He’ll probably also endure another poor patch of batting form at some point – this is the way with most batsmen, especially Alastair – so I think he’ll decide to ‘focus on his batting’ at some point.
As for the rest of the batting, I’m backing Alex Lees to mature into a very good test opener in time. His elevation to the side would be no stop-gap; it would be an investment for the next ten years. I’ve also backed Gary Ballance to bring, err, balance to the middle-order. He’s more of a natural five than a three, and I think he’ll come back strongly after working on his technique. Although he looked poor in this summer’s Ashes, he looked no worse than Alastair Cook did last year. You know what they say: form is temporary but class is permanent.
The other new face is Sam Hain. In case you’re not familiar with the Warwickshire man, he’s only just turned twenty years old but has already scored almost 1,500 first class runs at an average of 46 (with six hundreds). That’s pretty special. His inclusion would also irritate the Aussies big time: Hain was born in Hong Kong to English parents but was brought up in Australia. He even represented Australia’s U19 … as a sixteen year old! That’s some going.
When it comes to the bowling, I was tempted to throw in a tearaway quick like Tymal Mills or Jamie Overton, but I’m not sure they’ll stay fit. It’s a shame, as Australia’s attack is likely to have plenty of firepower. Mark Wood is probably the quickest bowler we’ll have (as long as he can maintain his own fitness). I’ve also gone for Reece Topley as the third specialist seamer. England seem infatuated with left-armers and I expect Topley to put on a yard of pace by the time he’s 24. Remember this side is the one I expect to play, not necessarily the one I’d choose.
Predicting the Australian side is a lot harder. There’s a real dearth of genuine batting talent, but the bowling remains strong. Here’s my best guess: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith (capt), Joe Burns, Chris Lynn, Mitch Marsh, Matthew Wade (wct), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon.
The first thing that will strike you is just how many new batsmen the Aussies have. They don’t have a choice though. They could go back to Usman Khawaja, but he’s never really convinced at test level. His first class average is also going backwards.
Of the new batsmen, only Bancroft seems like a natural test player. He’s a bit of a throwback: young, talented, but patient rather than reckless. He certainly seems like a good foil for David Warner. Australia need more batsmen capable of digging in.
Joe Burns and Chris Lynn are solid but unspectacular players at this moment, but they’re still young enough to improve and make an impact at the highest level. As Ian Chappell has said on many occasions, the Aussies aren’t exactly blessed in the batting department. Then again, England’s line-up probably won’t frighten anyone either.
As for the keeper, you’ll see I’ve settled on a familiar face. There are obviously other candidates like Peter Handscomb (a name for teenagers to have a bit of fun with) and the incumbent Peter Nevill, but I feel that Matthew Wade deserves another go. He certainly has his admirers around the world. His current test average is better than Haddin’s too. Wade already has two test hundreds.
Unfortunately, the Aussie attack still looks rather tasty. If Pat Cummins can stay fit their battery of pacemen will be formidable. Thankfully this is a big ‘if’. If I was in the insurance business like my old man I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole.
Darren Lehmann (if he’s still in charge) might be a little concerned about that tail though. Maybe Ashton Agar can oust Lyon as the team’s specialist spinner? That would certainly help. England’s lower order has the edge in terms of wag-ability.
Of course, if my projections are correct, we’ll be finally waving goodbye to Mitchell Johnson before the next Ashes. He’ll be 36 on the 2nd November 2017 – high time our Freddy Mercury resembling friend broke free and joined that Queen tribute band he’s been auditioning for.
The question is, will Australia be ‘under pressure’ in his absence, or will England’s Ashes prospects down under ‘bite the dust’ once more? I’ll get my coat.