Well, our lads are in Australia now, and the first warm up game starts at the WACA in three days’ time. That means it’s precisely 76 hours until some young bastard named Greg Law or Stuart Blewett (or something similar) takes Broad and Anderson to the cleaners and inserts the very first nail in our Ashes coffin.
Anyway, all is not lost. Ben Stokes might be as absent as salad in Mike Gatting’s fridge, but here at TFT we’ve found the perfect way to replace him. Or rather the perfect way to paper over the cracks. Some might call it ‘pie-eyed optimism’ or ‘clutching at straws’ – and they’d probably be right – but I’m not prepared to throw in the towel just yet.
So after literally minutes of painstaking deliberation, I’ve come up with an XI that I think gives us the best chance of winning / retaining the Ashes. That means an XI that can avoid a humiliating defeat at Brisbane, slowly grow in confidence, and ultimately steal the series 3-2 … thanks mainly to a bit of luck with the toss at Adelaide.
And here are the condemned men …
Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root, Bairstow, Moeen, Foakes, Woakes, Broad, Crane, Anderson
Now before you all tell me that my XI is crap (and there’s really no need to because I fully accept that it’s crap) I’d like to offer the following disclaimer: all I’ve done is pick the players least likely to embarrass themselves. It’s a pretty compelling methodology don’t you think?
The first thing you’ll notice is that I’ve picked Foakes as keeper. This is because I cannot accept a 3,4,5 of Vince, Root, Malan. England need to establish some big partnerships – and the best way to do that is to get our best two middle-order players in the middle together.
The downside of my plan, however, is that it will be almost impossible for our JB to bat 5 and keep wicket. It’s just too hot … especially for a ginger from ooop north. This means that Ben Foakes comes in as a specialist keeper.
The best thing about Foakes is that he’s a natural gloveman and therefore far less likely to completely embarrass himself than either Dawid Malan or Gary Ballance, who merely pretend to be natural international batsmen. You see the methodology at work, right?
Now I can’t pretend that my idea is perfect. There’s a very sensible viewpoint that Bairstow actually scores more runs when he keeps wicket. The theory goes that he feels less pressure as an ‘all-rounder’. Well I say ‘bollocks’ to this theory. JB is a far better and more confident batsman now than he was when he played as a specialist batter a few years back. And besides, I refuse to even contemplate that I could be wrong about this. Remember that ‘pie-eyed optimism’ (albeit mixed in with a bit of negative fatalism) is the name of the game here.
The next thing you’ll notice about my collection of misfits masquerading as potential Ashes winners is that I’ve got Moeen at six. Although there’s a good chance that Mo gets into trouble against the short ball, and hardly scores a run, at least he’ll do it with style.
I’d much rather promote Moeen, who is now a relatively experienced test cricketer who’s certain of his place in the side, than gamble on someone like Malan or, heaven forbid, Ballance. These two will probably get into trouble against the short-ball too. But at least with Moeen you get a split second of optimism that an attempted hook has disappeared into stands for six. You know the other two are doooooomed from the start.
Now I don’t want to turn this into a ‘Root should or shouldn’t bat 3’ debate – we’ve been there and done that many times before – but we do need to talk about James Vince too. For the sake of argument let’s just say he’ll either bat at 3 or 4.
I want to make it clear at this juncture that I haven’t picked Vince because I think he’s good. He clearly isn’t good. In fact he’s probably no better than the other jokers masquerading as legitimate batting options. However, we need to keep it real people. And if one thing is indisputable it’s that a Vince twenty odd is infinitely better to watch than a crablike Ballance or Malan twenty odd. In other words, Vince is far less likely to embarrass himself at the crease than the alternatives. Sure he’ll throw his wicket away for an ultimately disappointing score, but at least his innings might include a nice cover drive at some point.
The final somewhat controversial selection you’ll notice is that of Mason Crane. My logic for this is simple: given that Australia are probably going to win, it would be a lot less embarrassing if England go down being positive and adventurous rather than negative and predictable.
The typically English thing to do would be to pick Craig Overton as the fourth specialist bowler instead of Crane. Why? Because he can bat a bit and won’t bowl as many full tosses. However, the Aussie banter-merchants would have a field day if we do this. “It’s another English medium pace pie-chucker” they’d say. At least picking Crane would make the cricket interest to watch when Australia are 300-2 on the first afternoon at Brisbane.
So there we have it. England’s least embarrassing potential Ashes XI. There’s no Finn – it might get embarrassing if he suddenly becomes ‘unselectable’ in the middle of a spell – and there’s no Ball either – giving Australians the opportunity to chant ‘England have only got one Ball’ would be an obvious own-goal.
What we’re left with, therefore, is a team that probably won’t win, but at least they won’t win with style. And surely that’s what counts at the end of a long and incoherent article?