England’s Formula For Ashes Glory – A Random Theory

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?

James Morgan


  • I can’t fault your logic, James. I would still rather have Buttler than Foakes, though…..

  • Foakes is a much better bat and keeper than Butler in my view in the longer game . Apart from the flaws and selections in the batting we are unlikely to bowl Aussie out on the hard bouncy tracks because we’ve got no pace, well maybe Ball with his height . Runs are important but bowlers win matches.
    I would have taken Plunkett who would get more bounce than Broad or Anderson.
    Going back to the batting who else would you pick? They’ve all been tried before so Vince, Balance and Malan will probably do as “well” as any one else plucked from the county game. Mind you if your going to play a buffer at 5 play the best, which is Hayles by a mile.
    In saying all this hope we’re all wrong and we do well, but I doubt it.
    Just a few thoughts.

  • Will someone explain to me why the present Aussie side are to be feared. They don’t seem to steamroller anyone and have no recent history of consistency. They have 2 world class opening bowlers, both of whom have had recent injury problems and 2 world class batsmen in Warner and Smith, neither of whom have been breaking any records recently.
    I would, like you, prefer to see Crane tried early on, rather than as a later addition, as he has more potential x-factor.
    Vince, Ballance and Malan are not stupid or inexperienced. They know their games well and their limitations. I fully expect at least one of those 3 to make a significant impact. Anderson took a lot of wickets on a recent Ashes tour and is in the form of his life at present. The conditions should suit Broad and he is under pressure to produce again. We clearly have a better lower order than them, so are more likely to be able to paper over the top order cracks. In a long series with both sides showing batting vulnerability, this could be a key area.

    • “Anderson took a lot of wickets on a recent Ashes tour and is in the form of his life at present”
      By recent tour, do you mean 2010/11 because on his most recent tour of Australia (2013/14) he took 14 wickets at an average of 43 and a strike rate of 81? I think he could take wickets in Brisbane and in Adelaide under lights but I reckon he’ll struggle elsewhere (though obviously I’m happy to be proved wrong)

    • Both teams have 7-8 decent players, & some makeweights. But Australia are at home, & using a Kookaburra ball – Kryptonite to Jimmy Anderson’s Superman

  • In my local newspaper here in Tasmania, there was an article on the Australian batting line-up and the problematic #6 spot. The comment was that Australia don’t have six Test standard batsmen. The same thing has been said about the English team – the Ashes will be closer than you might think.

    • I agree, it’s two poor test teams competing with each other so it’s goimg to come down to who collapses the least. It will mean one sided games sadly but both sets of fans will get their few days of crowing

  • This whole “glass half-empty” routine is so tired and contrived. This absurd, bed-wetting defeatism is obviously self-serving. It really is just English fans getting their excuses in early, to guard against possible defeat: “Oh well, we’re rubbish anyway!”

    Sure, I know how the song goes: “Oh, we’re self-deprecating – it’s part of being an England fan.”

    Yeah, right. To be self-deprecating, you’d also need to be self-deprecating in victory, which you’re not. When you win, you’re every bit as mouthy and over-the-top as Australians.

    Are you really so scarred by previous losses that you have to get your coping mechanisms in place weeks in advance? It’s ridiculous, particularly when England have actually had the better of Ashes contests over the past decade. Honestly, what’s wrong with you people?

    • You make a valid point. Aussies tend to be terrible losers, while the English tend to be terrible winners.

      Makes for lots of fun for this watching neutral.

      All in all I tend to cheer for the away team in the Ashes – which in the modern era where most test sides (South Africa excepted) are allergic to touring is often painful!

      • My point is that Australians are at least consistent in their approach. Win at all costs (of course without cheating or vilifying opponents). Be confident. Be aggressive. Celebrate victory hard. Suck it up when you lose but don’t pretend you don’t care.

        The English, by comparison, are not at all consistent. They are neurotic, capricious and hypocritical. They’ll deliberately talk it down before the series – because they’re so “self-deprecating”, don’t you know – but if they win, that restraint goes straight out the window. So they’re self-deprecating … until they win, which makes it meaningless. Then that mask slips and they reveal themselves. So it’s a complete fiction. And if they lose, they’ll find a way to explain why it doesn’t really count, or why they don’t care, having laid the groundwork for those excuses months in advance. This ridiculous tap dance is why Australians want to leave them in pieces.

        Of course, the default English criticism about Australians is that they have no “class”. But which of the two approaches characterised above is more honourable, more true?

        With Australians, what you see is what you get. The English, on the other hand, are all smoke and mirrors, all pretense and excuses. They’ll say something one day but then the wind changes and they’ll do an about-face while pretending this is what was happening all along. It’s the reason Australians don’t respect them.

    • At least Swann waited three Tests before asking to go home.

      Finn’s hitting himself with his bat to get out of it already.

  • Interesting question about the fifth bowler at WACA. I would not touch Crane with a bargepole at the other test venues, but he might be a more interesting option at the WACA. Give him a chance by debuting him on a hard bouncy wicket which should suit a leggie and we will see if he has real potential. Too often the selectors have given leggies (Salisbury, Rashid, Schofield) little chance by playing them on slow, low wickets and then dropping them. If they are serious about Crane (and I doubt he will make it) at least give him a decent chance.

      • I wouldn’t be so sure. In recent years Cricket Australia has encouraged the production of pitches that give even the weakest touring teams the chance of taking games into at least the fourth day. Four days of mediocre crowds and viewing figures are still better than three. But crushing the Poms will do far more to raise cricket’s declining profile in Australia than merely beating the Poms. So the England team shouldn’t expect Australian curators to do them any favours.

    • Is that what ‘everyone’ wants ?!?!? 500 plays 500 and then crow about how ‘world class’ the modern player is ??

  • well this was an interesting read if very hysterical… i genuinely expect this series to be close. I’m quietly confident that stoneman and Malan can have good tours. taking the gloves off bairstow now would be stupid. along with de kock hes the best in the world, de kock went alright in aus last year at no 7. that said bairstow will bat at 6 and moeen at 7. that combination is head and shoulders above anything the Aussies can throw together, they’ll probably pick cartwright and neville – neither of which would be near the england set up (if i was Australian i’d want them to stick with maxwell at 6). I think Ball could bowl very well out there as his natural length will suit the conditions. you dont need express pace to win there, even rabada found more success thorugh reverse swing than pace (he bowled mid to high 80s that tour).

    i think renshaw will struggle technically against anderson too which could help get smith to the wicket early. i’m not against england picking crane either as the australians are up there with the worst players of leg spin, look what rashid did in the champions trophy.

    fair to say i’m a bit more optimistic!

    • I agree that Ball could bowl well and I am keen to see how he goes. However, I am pessimistic about England’s chances because Australia have a big home ground advantage, a good bowling line up and a really annoying habit of finding a player when they need one so I reckon they will sort out their problem with numbers 6 and 7.

  • Whatever happens, please don’t let Ballance near the England team again! The key is going to be to get Moeen fit. Given that Finn has managed to crock himself before the start (and since Mark Wood is Inevitably Unfit), can we get Plunkett in as a replacement? I actually think James Vince may be OK in Aus. His weakness tends to be against the moving ball outside off, and the Kookaburra doesn’t move that much. I’ll go with your team, James, though I have misgivings about James Anderson in Australia.

  • As predicted so far. The CAXI (which appears to comprise mainly 12 year olds) had England 5 down for under 200. Woakes and Malan currently steadying the ship (the words Malan and steadying the ship in close proximity are expected to be a one off).


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