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Ashes Squad 2017/18: My prediction

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Going into the Ashes series this winter it is the first time for a few series, probably since the 2006-07 whitewash where I have not been able to pick between the two possible squads ahead of the series. Obviously, being a big England cricket fan my heart is telling me England will be too strong in the batting department for Australia, but my head can't pick between the two.

My predicted squad for the series is listed below and with each of the players I am selecting I will do my best to justify each selection as well.

1. Joe Root (captain): No more needs to say, he is the Test Captain and comfortably England’s' best player with the bat. To me though he should be batting at 3 in the line up and that is where he will sit in my batting order you'll see at the end of this article.

2. Alastair Cook: The second of the five nailed on selections in the Test line up. He isn't England’s leading run scoring in Test Matches for no reason and he has still shown throughout this summer both with England and Essex that not being captain has, if anything, allowed him a bit more freedom in terms of his batting, churning out the runs for fun in all formats for his county as well as dominating at the top of the order against South Africa and then the West Indies more recently.

3. Ben Stokes: Arguably the best all-rounder in world cricket right now. His batting is showing more and more maturity, shown in his hundred at the oval earlier in the summer. For me, watching Ben Stokes bat when he is in full flow is one of the most exciting prospects around. Stokes, for me, is one of the best examples of the modern cricket who can score 360 degrees around the wicket but he can as well show the grit and determination to dig in if the situation needs it.

4. Jonny Bairstow: For me Jonny has been one of the best batsmen in the country for the last 2 to 3 years now. His wicket-keeping is coming on with every passing game, but his batting is still his strongest string to his bow. I would love to see Bairstow batting higher up but for the balance of the team I couldn't see him realistically batting above 5 or 6 in the order. With the vital runs he scores there is no doubt for me about the inclusion of Jonny Bairstow in the line up. The only area for debate is whether he would excel even more if he had the gloves taken off him?

5. James Anderson: England’s bowling attack leader for nearly a decade now and he has shown this even more so this summer, taking crucial wickets at vital times with the new ball against both South Africa and West Indies. We know he is now a member of the 500 club but how many Australian batsmen will add to his tally this winter?

 

When you move past these five players there is arguably debate for their position and what their role within the team should be. I will carry on the current place holders of the positions and work down the batting order with possibly squad members and replacements.

6. Mark Stoneman: The Surrey opener hasn't nailed down his position in the side by any means but the scores and innings he has played has shown enough for me to see a long term partner for Alastair Cook. I also see Stoneman flourishing in Australian conditions which aren't too different to new home ground of the Oval. He has the technique to grind out an innings when needed but also has the ability to counter attack as shown by some of his innings this season in the county championship.

7. Moeen Ali: The Worcestershire all-rounder has really nailed his position as England’s lead spinner. He has began to put in regular game affecting, not necessarily always game winning performances but he is really coming in to his own as a Test match spinning all-rounder. Ali has also began to regularly contribute vital runs down the order and he knows how to marshall the tail brilliantly also. The only question will be is, do England need a spinning all-rounder over another fast bowler or extra batsman when they have Joe Root who can bowl a bit of off-spin? Or is a specialist spinner better?

8. Stuart Broad: Jimmys number 2 in leading the bowling attack. His batting has fallen away a bit since he first came onto the scene but his bowling is now becoming more and more dangerous with the experience he has gained, afterall you don't become England's second leading wicket taker by accident. Broad also knows how to step up when needed, we've seen him time and time again when he has gotten into a rhythm where he takes an innings away from an opposition but also when Anderson hasn't been playing or not necessarily firing on all cylinders, Broad steps forward and takes the lead. The other area we have seen Broad excel in Australia, be it with England or his stint with Hobart Hurricanes last Winter, his natural length is slightly shorter than Anderson so is hitting the splice of the bat more frequently. The only issue with Stuart is keeping him fit, we see him currently not playing the last round of Championship games and not actually playing any cricket before the tour to rest his heal completely. Will he manage all five Tests? As long as he is fully fit, he is the team at 9 or 10.

9. Chris Woakes: Last summer he would have been one of the first names on the team sheet in terms of England's Test Match XI, but following the side strain that took him out of the Champions Trophy, I am still waiting to see if he has regained full fitness and back to his best, but if he is fully fit and firing come the first Test then I believe he is the best player at England's disposal to fill the bowling all-rounder position behind Moeen Ali batting at 8.

For me, outside of these nams is where the positions are up for grabs. Obviously this summer we have seen the debuts of Tom Westley and Dawid Malan. Both have shown glipses of what has made them successful for their counties without neither really nailing down their position. I feel at times they have been judged too quickly by pundits on the TV and radio as well as in the press. Both are quality players, they have shown that regularly enough to get the attention of the selectors in the first place. Obviously with a 17 man squad I have only outlined 9 names so far, now is where I feel where there is a lot of debate to be had for certain players over others.

10. Alex Hales: Now, following his first stint in the Test line up I know Hales didn't set the world on fire by any means, unlike his form in the white ball formats for England. I wouldn't have him in the squad as a replacement opener as this isn't his position when playing the longer format for Nottinghamshire. In the Championship we see Hales coming in at 4 or 5 in the order so I would have him there for this role.

11. Liam Livingstone: This is selection which may divide opionion. Livingstone has arguably been one of the brightest talents since breaking into the first team. Having captained his county this summer in Steven Crofts absence but he has also shone for Lions, being the first player to score two hundreds in the same List A game for them since Kevin Pietersen. Livingstone offers that combative and counter attacking ability which I feel fits with this current England team but has also shown this season playing in Division 1 of the Championship he has it in him to make the big scores, making 224 off 325 balls against Warwickshire at Old Trafford. Livingstone, alongwith Hales, Stokes and Bairstow would be fighting it out for the number 4/5 positions in the order really.

12. Dawid Malan: The current holder of the number 5 position in the Test team, Malan has had mixed fortunes since coming into the side. He has shown lately he has what it takes to grind out an innings, scoring his slowest ever first class 50 against the West Indies in the recent series. I think he would have success in Australia but the worry is how would he fair if England lose a few cheap/early wickets and the bowlers are on top or Nathan Lyon is on song. I think the last round of Championship games could be make or break for the selectors decision on Malan before the warm up matches but it is between himself, Hales and Livingstone for me as to who England play as a specialist batsman in the middle order for that first Test.

13. Ben Foakes: Arguably Foakes is the best specialist Wicket-Keeper in the country at the moment. Starring for Surrey in all formats with the gloves as well as the Lions side over the last year/18 months. I feel England should pick him for in the squad but the luxury they have this winter is that the Lions are in Australia at the same time so rather than just carrying the drinks, unless England choose to go with him and Bairstow as a specialist batsman or if he gets injured, have Foakes still playing with the Lions team so should he be called upon he has had game time and in form with the gloves and the bat. Of course there is the argument of Jos Butler but for me he hasn't played enough red ball cricket to show he has improved/changed since his last chance in the side.

14. Haseeb Hameed/Keaton Jennings: This is where the selection started to get difficult, more because of injuries rather than doubting a player or lack of form. Haseeb Hameed seems to be one of the unluckiest cricketers for England over the last year. Making his debut in India and playing well for his first few games but then broke his finger but came out and batted on bravely, and now unfortunately for him he has now done the same injury again. If he is fit, for me he is in the squad as a back up opener but I feel he has the temperament where if needed he could bat as low as 5 to bring a bit more stability to that middle order. IF he is fit and not selected, I feel like Foakes he should be with the Lions getting time in the middle under his belt. However, if Hameed is not fit then I would have Keaten Jennings as the back up opener, but just like I have mentioned with Hameed and Foakes I would have with the Lions rather than carrying the drinks.

15. Toby Roland-Jones/Liam Plunkett: This selection is another that is fitness dependant. We found out recently that Roland-Jones has developed a stress fracture in his back that requires at least 6 weeks of recovery time. Following the performances he has put in since making his debut, mainly against South Africa, Roland-Jones has been a revelation and like Broad, with his extra height and bounce will get the ball hitting the splice of the bat more and troubling the Australians who like to get on the front foot. He is also quicker than people realise and utilises movement through the air and off the pitch to his advantage. However, should Roland-Jones be deemed not fit enough for the series then I would pick Liam Plunkett. Since moving to Yorkshire and getting recalled to the one-day he seems to have really developed and found his own game. A hard hitting lower order batsman who hits the pitch hard and quick. Another option for that batting at 9, bowling 90+ mph when firing and intimidating as a bowler too.

16. Mason Crane: My choice for the second spinner is Mason Crane. Not only is having a leg spinner a brilliant back up to have and a good alternative to Moeen Ali's traditional off-spin but Crane also has experience of playing State cricket in Australia having made history by featuring for New South Wales last winter. He is young and has already shown his growing confidence and quality when he has featured for England this year against South Africa. Even should England not pick him to play the continued time around the Test team will help to develop his bowling.

17. Mark Wood/Tom Curran: My final selection was a difficult one and is again fitness dependant. Mark Wood could be Englands' real X factor bowler, skiddy and capable of bowling in excess of 90+ mph could see him rush many an Aussie batsman,. The only issue is his fitness and keeping him on the park. Should Wood not be fit enough then in my opinion Tom Curran should be included in the squad. He has come on no end these last two years, I first saw him live playing for the England Lions last summer against Sri Lanka A and I could see there in a bowling attack with his brother Tom, Toby Roland-Jones and Mark Wood that he had something special about him. A good repeatable action, decent pace and good stamina able to bowl long spells but also the ability to get movement out of the new and old balls. However, like Foakes and Hameed/Jennings, if Curran isn't playing I would have him playing for the Lions so he has overs under his belt should he be called upon.

 

Now, you will see the omission of Tom Westley. Unfortunately I haven't seen enough of the Essex batsman to be truly convinced by him. Some of the LBW dismissals I have seen him have shows a real vulnerability and I feel the strength of the Australian bowling attack will work him out and work him over too easily, and that would again leave England needing Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow or another to come to the rescue. Another absentee who deserves a place in this squad is Jack Leach of Somerset. I like him as a bowler and really rate him, I just chose to go with Crane instead due to the different variation a leg spinner brings instead of a slow left arm bowler. Others who I wish I could get into the squad are Northants opener Ben Duckett and Surrey opener Rory Burns. Both are top quality batsmen and are very classy openers, Duckett I feel could bat anywhere for England in that top order, not just as an opener but an unfortunately timed broken finger has ruled him out of the reckoning as far as I am aware, however, hopefully he makes it on to the Lions tour if fit as I still believe he does have a long term future with England in all 3 formats. Burns, similar to Duckett is a classy opener, and I do see him playing the longest format for England but at the moment can't see him getting past Cook, Stoneman or Hameed.

 

First Ashes line-up (Prediction):

1. Alastair Cook

2. Mark Stoneman

3. Joe Root

4. Jonny Bairstow

5. Alex Hales

6. Ben Stokes

7. Moeen Ali

8. Chris Woakes

9. Mark Wood (As long as fit)

10. Stuart Broad (As long as fit)

11. Jimmy Anderson

 

Squad members:

12. Haseeb Hameed (As long as fit, travels with the Lions for game time)

13. Liam Livingstone

14. Dawid Malan

15. Ben Foakes (Back up wicket keeper)

16. Mason Crane

17. Toby Roland-Jones (As long as fit)/Tom Curran if not fit

 

Let me know what you think of my squad choices and whether you agree or not in the comment section below.

 

JW

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