So finally, after much anticipation, England named their Ashes squad on Wednesday to tour Australia this winter. Much of the squad was to be expected, yet there were several surprising and controversial choices. It’s fair to say that the selectors are taking a risk, but what are the chances that some of their more questionable picks will come off?
England’s Ashes Squad: The Talking Points
Vince Gets Another Shot
With Tom Westley struggling for runs in the West Indies series, the number three slot was once again open for takers. The feeling was that either Westley would just about keep his place or one of Gary Ballance and Alex Hales would come into the middle order, with Joe Root moving up to number three.
As it turned out, neither happened, and the selectors instead sprung a surprise by recalling James Vince into the squad. Vince had a tough introduction into Test cricket last season against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, scoring only 212 runs from 11 innings at an average of just 19.27 and failing to register a fifty. In addition, after being dropped and told to discover some of the form that earned him his call-up, Vince has been inconsistent for Hampshire this summer, averaging only 33.11 from 18 knocks.
The numbers don’t scream out as someone who is an outstanding candidate, so what do the selectors see in Vince? Well, one thing the 26-year-old does have on his side is talent. While he can frustrate at times through playing reckless shots, he can also thrill through sparkling strokeplay. Furthermore, the pacy Australian wickets may suit his ability to play shots all around the wicket. It’s a gamble but, at the same time, one that could pay off.
Gary Ballance is a player that divides opinion. While some would admit to having nightmares over his lack of foot movement and poor recent England form, others admire his first-class record and ability to dig in when things get tough. He is recalled to the side after fracturing his hand in the second Test against South Africa but there are question marks over whether he deserves a chance in Australia.
Ballance’s last 25 Test innings read: 18, 23, 1, 0, 29, 6, 61, 0, 32, 14, 6, 43, 23, 70, 28, 8, 17, 1, 9, 9, 5, 20, 34, 27, 4. Worrying numbers indeed, yet where Ballance bats could hold the key. His refusal to change his technique could land him in plenty of trouble against new ball the pace of Mitchell Starc and the consistency of Josh Hazlewood. A birth at number five, however, could see him cash in potentially against the older ball. That way he could rediscover his excellent early 2017 season form that he showed for Yorkshire.
Foakes Rewarded For Hard Work
England are fortunate to have a wicket-keeper batsman of the quality of Jonny Bairstow, who along with Quinton De Kock, is quite possibly the leading gloveman in Test cricket at the moment. On a long, arduous tour such as Australia, however, there needs to be good backup, and Ben Foakes has earned the right to be that man.
Many may feel that Jos Buttler could have been included due to his own excellent ability behind the stumps, as well as his explosive ability with the bat. Yet Foakes has earned the reputation as one of the standout wicket-keepers in the country, with his own coach, Alec Stewart, for one, speaking very highly of him. In addition, Foakes has shown great strides with the bat (a previous concerning area of his game) this season, averaging 42.5 from 20 innings, proving himself as a vital cog in Surrey’s middle order. It is a selection that should be a shrewd one.
Overton Overtakes Injured Roland-Jones
After his superb form in his first summer for England, Toby-Roland-Jones seemed a certainty to tour Australia, until a stress fracture in his back ruled him out. There were concerns about Mark Wood’s fitness and Steven Finn’s form, so the selectors decided to look elsewhere. A like for like replacement was needed and Craig Overton was their man.
Overton, a tall, bouncy and relatively quick bowler, has led the Somerset attack superbly this season, taking 46 wickets at 22.39. While Essex’s Jamie Porter and Ben Coad of Yorkshire have had more prolific seasons, it is thought that Overton can provide some much-needed pace and bounce to the England attack, especially on Australian wickets.
“Craig, for while, has been a very consistent reporter for Somerset, has led their attack exceptionally well,” said selector James Whittaker. “He is a huge-hearted, consistent performer and a character we think we need in that dressing-room.” Despite being an initially surprising choice, it would be hard to argue against the reasons why Overton has been selected.
Crane Wins The Race As The Second Spinner
The selection of Mason Crane is arguably the most controversial plainly due to the alternatives. While Crane undoubtedly has plenty of ability, his numbers suggest he should be much lower in the pecking order for England’s second spinner. Over the last two seasons, Somerset’s Jack Leach has taken 107 wickets at an average 24.54, compared to Crane, who has just 47 scalps at 44.08.
With Leach’s teammate, Dom Bess, along with Middlesex’s Ollie Rayner also having better numbers, Crane can’t have been picked on merit. Instead, the likelihood is that he has been picked on potential and as a leg-spinning alternative to Moeen Ali. Yet, while there is some sense to be seen in that method of thinking, you would be forgiven for being puzzled at why better-performing candidates have not earned the nod instead. It leaves England worryingly thin of top quality in the spin department.