Good news. The Ashes is going ahead. It took some intense diplomatic wrangling but eventually the England players decided to commit. Even Jos Buttler chose to tour, which shocked me as much as it probably annoyed Ben Foakes.
It’s not all good news, however. England’s squad is predictably weak. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s the weakest to leave our shores for Australia since 1994. One could argue that the 2002/03 squad was just as bad but at least they managed to avoid a whitewash against one of the greatest Test teams ever assembled. Plus they had an extremely handy opening pair.
So which lambs, exactly, have the selectors chosen? Exactly who we thought they’d choose to be honest. There’s no imagination whatsoever. The out-of-his-depth Chris Silverwood has decided to stand by the same players that have already been found wanting time after time:
Burns, Hameed, Crawley, Malan, Root, Pope, Lawrence, Bairstow, Buttler, Bess, Leach, Woakes, Overton, Broad, Robinson, Wood, Anderson.
My first thought upon seeing the squad was how lucky Silverwood’s wife must be. He’s incredibly loyal. Did he not fancy flirting with a Matt Parkison or Liam Livingstone? Nope.
However, in the selectors’ defence, I’d struggle to make an unarguable case for any of the players omitted. Livingstone has made his name as a white ball player in recent times, whilst Parkinson offers very little with either the bat or in the field. This isn’t necessarily an issue for me but you just knew it would bother the people that matter.
Meanwhile, although we can all grumble about Craig Overton, who exactly should have been picked instead? Archer and Stone are injured so the options were limited. Mahmood is still very raw in red ball cricket and his record really isn’t much to write home about.
Although some might laugh at suggestions that any England squad containing Anderson and Broad could possibly be deemed ‘weak’, let’s just look at things objectively here. I love Jimmy as much as the next England supporter but he averages 35 down under. Broad averages 37. They’re good bowlers, as is Chris Woakes, but the conditions won’t help them.
Pace and quality spin is what you need to take 20 wickets down under. And sadly England don’t have enough of either. Mark Wood’s fitness will be absolutely crucial as he’s the only seamer capable of fighting fire with fire. We’ll all be pining for Archer, Stone, and indeed Ben Stokes, within five minutes.
It’s England’s batting, however, that worries me the most. Our top three looks woefully thin. Burns has guts but remains the archetypal average Test opener. Hameed will be vulnerable against Australia’s quicks on harder surfaces, and Malan is a barely adequate five or six. Do you really want him striding to the wicket in the first over of a Test match? It will be hide behind the sofa time.
Unless Joe Root can break all records himself then England will simply get blown away. Ollie Pope has tremendous talent but looked a long way short of fulfilling his potential this summer. He’ll find it incredibly hard to adapt to Australian pitches. A Test match won’t be anything like Aussie grade cricket.
And then there’s Dan Lawrence. Again he’s a good young county batsman but this will be a whole new ball game for him. Setting anything but the lowest expectations would simply be unfair. Besides, I think everyone expects Jonny Bairstow to play anyway. Silverwood isn’t just loyal; he clearly cares about the environment, too. His commitment to recycling cricketers is astounding.
So what else do England have in their locker? Although the management team will be pleased that Buttler has decided to make the trip – he’s a strong presence in the dressing room – I wouldn’t expect him to succeed down under. He’s been found wanting every time he’s faced Australia’s pace attack. He averages a pitiful 20.5 in 18 innings against Australia (all at home). He’ll find the going tough when Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc and Co bomb him, too. I suspect this trip could see the end of this Test career.
Martin Johnson famously described England’s 1987 Ashes heroes as the team that couldn’t bat, bowl, or field. So maybe it will be the same this time? We’ll all write them off and then watch in awe as they prove us wrong. This is possible, of course, but one thing the 1987 team did reasonably well was catch. Sadly, the current England XI drop more catches than any other major Test nation. It’s a recipe for disaster.
The only good news, of course, is that Australia have problems of their own. We won’t be facing the great baggy greens of the 90s and noughties. However, I suspect that they’ll have more than enough for us. Their bowling will be strong – let’s not forget how well Nathan Lyon supports their fearsome pacemen – whilst any XI containing Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne is capable of putting competitive scores on the doors.
Are you as pessimistic as me? I’d like to see a little more positivity in the comments below. Unfortunately I just feel that our cupboard is bare. We all know the reasons why. The ECB have neglected first class cricket for far too long and Ashes ignominy is exactly what English cricket deserves.
The road taken by our hapless administrators led to this point. Now we have to watch the inexorable car crash.