Conventional wisdom in the midst of England’s Ashes drubbing is that their seam attack has not been good enough.
Indeed, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Jake Ball have taken only 31 wickets between them in three Tests, at a combined average of 42.6.
Australia’s batsmen—Steve Smith in particular—have been largely untroubled in all but one innings, and the one-paced nature of the seam bowlers has been attributed as a core reason for England’s struggles.
However, the idea that injury and omission to England’s other bowlers has been the root cause of this trouble is simply a fallacy.
While having a Mitchell Starc-style figure—a left-armer who can swing the ball at pace—might have changed the tourists’ fortunes, none of those missing from the tour party would have made a tangible difference.
Test bowling average: 40.65
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division Two): 29.9
Several ex-England players, including Michael Vaughan and Bob Willis wrote in the media that Mark Wood was a must-pick bowler at Perth.
Heralded as a man with the pace to trouble the Australians, Wood has suffered from a series of injuries since his Test debut in 2015, but has been with the England Lions for their white-ball games Down Under recently.
However, not only is Wood not the speed merchant that some thought—he was clocked around 84mph for most of the South Africa series this summer, with a similar average speed to Chris Woakes’ in the Ashes—but he has also struggled in his recent Tests.
In that series, he took one wicket for 197 runs in his two appearances, and rarely troubled a mediocre South African batting line-up, even when he was close to full fitness.
While the 2015 version of Wood might have made some difference in this series, it is clear that the Durham quick is no longer the same bowler he was.
Test bowling average: 37.46
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division One): 22.7
Used as an ‘enforcer’ during the 2014 home series against India, and a staple of England’s ODI team, Liam Plunkett’s excellent Championship average this summer might have been thought to help his case for selection on this tour.
But therein lies the catch: he played only twice for Yorkshire with the red ball this season, due to fitness concerns and a general thought that he is not the same force he used to be in first-class cricket.
Indeed, even in one-day games, his speeds have recently been in the low 80s: the idea that his pace would be enough by itself to bounce out Smith, Warner and co. is again overly helpful.
Test bowling average: 19.64
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division One): 31.4
After shooting onto the scene with a debut five-wicket haul against South Africa at the Oval, Toby Roland-Jones missed out on the plane only due to a stress fracture he suffered towards the end of the county season.
Indeed, his Test career to date has been eye-catching, and he is a real handful in English conditions.
But would another swing bowler, with speeds in the mid-to-low 80s have changed the one-paced nature of England’s attack?
Test bowling average: 30.40
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division One): 30.7
Dropped after three Tests on the 2010/11 for his poor economy rate, and deemed ‘unselectable’ after a crisis of confidence with his action in 2013/14: Ashes tours have proved tough for Steven Finn.
And while at 6ft7in, the towering seamer does extract extra bounce from flatter pitches, his speeds have been on the decline for several years now, and his past five Test wickets have come at a combined cost of 400 runs.
Test bowling average: –
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division One): 16.83
A genuinely quick opening bowler who swings the ball at pace, Jamie Porter’s 75 Championship scalps fired Essex to an unlikely title this summer.
But at 24 and with just one season of Division One cricket under his belt, a meaningful impact on an Ashes series was never probable, and would have likely proved a baptism of fire.
Test bowling average: 33.93
2017 County Championship bowling average (Division Two): –
Absent due to Avon and Somerset Police’s investigation into his fracas outside Mbargo nightclub in Bristol, Ben Stokes would undoubtedly have made some difference to the series, with his runs at number six and ability to bowl short spells in the high 80s conspicuous by their absence on this tour.
But Stokes is no world-beater with the ball. His wickets in Tests this summer came at 31.3, and that his average was that low was almost entirely down to his 6/22 in extremely helpful conditions against the West Indies.
While Stokes’ pace and bounce would have offered England something different with the ball, the truth is that his batting and competitive attitude has been much more of a loss than his bowling.
Test bowling average: –
2017 County Championship bowling averages (both divisions): 28.9
Mark Footitt left Surrey halfway through the summer, and struggled for red-ball game time at Nottinghamshire.
While his left-arm angle might have offered some variation, the 32-year-old has done little in the past two seasons to suggest that he would have made any difference to England’s fortunes.
Jamie Overton, Sam Curran, George Garton, Tymal Mills et al.
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