@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
It’s normally around this time in an Ashes tour, 2-0 down and with more pain to follow, that the eyes of the head coach start scanning around those available for someone to make a difference.
The problem is that this time, England have picked an unusually small Ashes squad, made up entirely of players who have been tried, and largely failed, in Test cricket this year. The England Lions tour was also a short one, with the second-string side flying home after the first Test, leaving Chris Silverwood and co. short on reserves. The Covid-19 pandemic has also made flying in any short-notice saviours problematic.
However, in a strange twist of irony, the rise of the franchise T20 league could come to the rescue of England’s Test team. There are plenty of English players signed up for the Big Bash League, done with quarantine and hitting balls day in/day out, and there are reports that consideration is being given to sending out an SOS signal. While some are a distance from Test contention, others have been raised as options even when they aren’t literally the only options available. Could any of these make a difference to England’s Ashes chances? Probably not, but here’s a look at them anyway.
13 Tests, 548 runs at 24.90, 3 50s, HS: 83
175 first-class games, 10,508 runs at 39.06, 26 100s, HS: 240
You know the story. Right-hand dreamboat, cover drive to die for and a propensity for edging behind to make you explode. He averages 42 in first-class cricket since he last played a Test match, and made his maiden international hundred in the last game he played, that glorious, Covid-affected whitewash sealer against Pakistan. And even if he does just manage a pretty 25 before nicking off, well, England would probably take that right now.
4 Tests, 110 runs at 15.71, 1 50, HS: 56
108 first-class games, 6,845 runs at 39.11, 19 100s, HS: 282*
Ben Duckett earned his maiden call-up after a mammoth two summers in 2015 and 2016, in which he made nine hundreds and averaged 56, but struggled against spin and lost his place to Haseeb Hameed. Since then, he hasn’t quite hit the same heights, adding a sole T20I cap in 2019, with arguably his most notable act on England duty coming on the last Ashes tour when he was reprimanded for pouring a pint over James Anderson’s head. Still, he keeps wicket and has a creditable overall record.
93 first-class games, 5,609 runs at 37.64, 18 100s, HS: 194
Back at the start of the 2018 summer, Joe Clarke was the assumed next man in for England, only for a scorching run of form and a selector with a penchant for a punt to see Ollie Pope leapfrog him in the queue. A move to Notts did not turbocharge Clarke’s career the way many thought it would, with his role in the Alex Hepburn rape case serving as a distraction and perhaps causing England to be wary of looking his way. But seven fifties and a hundred in the 2021 County Championship demonstrate there is still a player there, if England want one.
74 first-class games, 3,327 runs at 34.29, 6 100s, HS: 171
Sam Billings, England’s perennial white-ball squad filler, got his moment under lights last summer, with a high-class hundred against Australia, albeit not one that could quite see England to victory. He was added to the Test squad to face New Zealand as wicketkeeping cover, and while his limited-overs obligations have seen his first-class opportunities limited, Billings has a good recent red-ball record: he averages 45 in 12 innings since the start of 2019. He’s also a solid wicketkeeper and a stellar fielder, two things that could tempt England to look his way.
48 first-class games, 2,100 runs at 27.63, 4 100s, HS: 124
A former England U19 captain, Harry Brook at times looked set to become an unfulfilled talent, only to surge into the conversation through the 2021 summer. He has averaged 39 in first-class cricket since the start of last year (though his overall mark still hovers below 28) and he was one of the breakout stars of The Hundred and the T20 Blast, averaging 47 and striking at 154 in a struggling Northern Superchargers side, and finishing fourth in the competition run-charts in the latter. An England Lions call-up shows a willingness to see what he can do, though he managed only 17 and one against Australia A.
94 first-class games, 4,957 runs at 32.61, 8 100s, HS: 135; 53 wickets at 29.54, BBI: 4-39
Long touted as one of the most exciting young players in the country, Tom Abell saw his career set back by his early elevation to the Somerset captaincy, with the struggles of juggling the dual responsibilities leading to his decision to drop himself during the 2017 season. A series of battling innings to kick off the 2021 season saw plenty take notice again, only for an ill-timed injury to scupper his England charge.
25 first-class games, 70 wickets at 27.92, 1 5wi, BBI: 5-47
The sole bowler on this list, but an intriguing prospect. An intelligent, slinky quick, Saqib Mahmood doesn’t quite have the pace of a Mark Wood or an Olly Stone, but he’s not really cut from the right-arm medium-fast mould as the rest of England’s options either. A special reverse-swinging spell in the Roses match earlier this year earned him a maiden first-class five-for and marked him out as a special talent, and four wickets in two overs on his Big Bash League debut did his hopes no harm.