Another away Ashes series has been lost and the post-series soul-searching is well under way despite there still being a Test to go.
Whereas in 2017-18 it was the toothlessness of England’s predictable attack that came under the microscope, this time it’s the collective failings of a batting unit that has provided just one century between them from the opening four Tests.
As ever, team selections are being scrutinised. Three of the England top seven to take the field at Sydney – Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler – average less than 32.50 in first-class cricket and while there is some logic behind each of their selections, we wondered which batters England would have taken to Australia and pick in their top seven if selection was purely based on first-class batting averages.
First, a couple of rules. In the interest of fairness, we are only considering players’ non-Test first-class batting averages. Players must have played more than 35 first-class games and must have averaged at least 25 in the 2021 County Championship, which rules players who might have higher overall career numbers but were off the boil in the year leading up to the Ashes (sorry, James Hildreth). We have only considered players currently eligible for international selection. We have selected two openers, three middle-order batters, a batting all-rounder and a wicketkeeper.
1. Rory Burns
Non-Test first-class batting average: 44.34
Dropped after the Adelaide Test, Burns has been one of the most consistent run-scorers in county cricket for some time. This was reinforced in 2021 where he started the year as arguably the form batter in the country; he passed 50 eight times in nine County Championship matches.
2. Dom Sibley
Non-Test first-class batting average: 41.16
Reinvigorated by his move from Surrey to Warwickshire, Sibley makes the XI alongside his former Surrey and England opening partner, Burns.
3. Josh Bohannon
Non-Test first-class batting average: 43.97
A superb breakout summer saw Bohannon earn a maiden England Lions call-up for their winter tour to Australia. If he backs up that form in 2022, a senior England selection surely awaits the Lancastrian.
4. Joe Root
Non-Test first-class batting average: 47.09
The sole England batting great of his generation, it is hardly a surprise that his first-class numbers back up his class. Though his non-Test first-class batting average is lower than his equivalent Test figure, it should be remembered that the majority of his County Championship career took place either before or in the early days of his England career.
5. Ollie Pope
Non-Test first-class batting average: 66.42
Pope averages more than double in non-Test cricket than he does for England at the highest level, though that spectacular figure of 66.41 drops to 46 if you exclude games at his home ground of The Oval.
6. Chris Woakes (Batting all-rounder)
Non-Test first-class batting average: 35.86
Woakes, known more for his bowling in international cricket, actually gets into the side as a batting all-rounder. The Warwickshire World Cup winner has nine domestic first-class tons to his name.
7. Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper)
Non-Test first-class batting average: 49.98
Another who has a spot in the current England line-up, Bairstow’s average of 49.98 is by a distance out in front of his competitors for this position.
Reserve opener: Hassan Azad
Non-Test first-class batting average: 39.33
Azad possesses a marginally higher average than a host of former England openers such as Adam Lyth and Sam Robson. His average is also comfortably higher than those of the openers picked on this winter’s England Lions tour. His detractors will point to a reasonable chunk of his career taking place in Division Two (and Three) of the County Championship.
Reserve keeper: Ben Brown
Non-Test first-class batting average: 40.41
At the end of his career some will wonder how a wicketkeeper-batter averaging over 40 in first-class cricket never got a go in Test cricket. Now 33, Brown is unfortunate to have his career coincide with not only Bairstow – who for a while was the standout keeper-batter on the planet – but Buttler, who England were desperate to see carry his white-ball prowess over to Test cricket.
Reserve middle-order batters:
Non-Test first-class batting average: 40.09
Non-Test first-class batting average: 40.32
Duckett and Vince – two tried and discarded England Test batters – narrowly beat current Ashes tourists Dan Lawrence (39.55) and David Malan (39.20) for spots in this squad.
Reserve batting all-rounder:
Non-Test first-class batting average: 35.42
Rhodes pips Ben Stokes and Darren Stevens (35.03) to a spot as this hypothetical squad’s reserve batting all-rounder. Stokes actually averages more with the bat in Test cricket (36.52) than in non-Test first-class cricket (33.56), though, like Root, it is worth noting that Stokes played the bulk of his first-class cricket in the nascent days of his professional career. Rhodes averages 28.81 with the ball.