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Four Ashes selection dilemmas facing England

by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

With England having selected their squad for the Ashes, we take a look at some of the main selection dilemmas confronting head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root.

While England’s 17-strong squad features no uncapped players, there are plenty of uncertainties over who will make up the final XI and how England will look to balance their side. Below are the four core areas up for debate.

Who will open with Rory Burns?

Will England pick Zak Crawley or Haseeb Hameed to partner Rory Burns at the top of the order? Crawley has had an awful calendar year but has long been thought of as someone whose game is well suited to the challenges of batting on the bouncier tracks of Australia. His attacking intent is something that could also work in his favour compared to the more pedestrian Hameed.

Hameed performed admirably if not excellently in his return to the Test side. In his five innings back in the team, two half centuries were accompanied by two ducks to give him a series average of 28 against India. wondering how that compares to the career averages of Crawley and Dom Sibley, the man Hameed replaced this summer? Well, Sibley (28.94) just about pips Crawley (28.34).

Who leads the middle-order race?

Much of the middle-order debate could hinge on whether England opt for Chris Woakes at No.7 to leave open room for four quicks and a spinner. With Dawid Malan, Joe Root and Jos Buttler all penned in, that scenario would leave only one slot left in the middle order to be filled by one of Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow or Dan Lawrence.

Realistically, Lawrence currently sits third on that list, which would make it a shootout between Pope and Bairstow. Pope scored 81 in his last Test at the Oval, but only played in that match because Buttler missed it for the birth of his child. Whether that moves Pope up in the pecking order remains to be seen. Bairstow scored a century the last time England toured Australia which could work in his favour, but since that series he has averaged 25 in Test cricket from 28 matches. By comparison, Pope averages 32.16 in the 20 Test matches he has played in his career so far. Nonetheless, it could just be that England opt for four bowlers, leaving space for both Bairstow and Pope to come in at Nos. 5 and 6, with Buttler at seven.

Will England play a spinner?

Silverwood and Root have proven on multiple occasions that they have no issue with leaving a frontline spinner out, with neither Jack Leach or Dom Bess being selected for a single home Test this summer. When Moeen Ali came into the side for three matches against India, he did so at No.7, balancing the XI as a spin-bowling all-rounder. Now Moeen has retired, Leach appears to be England’s first-choice spinner once more after landing a central contract. But uncertainty remains over whether he’ll be in England’s starting XI for the series.

Woakes batting at No.7 as an all-rounder could open the door for a spinner to feature in the XI as part of a five-man attack, but if England opt for just four bowlers, it seems likely that all of them will be quicks.

There remains the unlikely scenario of England going in with three seamers and a spinner, as they did so successfully in 2010/11. Australia use that tactic themselves, with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins combining alongside Nathan Lyon. But do Silverwood and Root have faith in Leach to hold his own in a four-man attack? They have yet to show it.

Which four seamers will England start with?

If Woakes is seen as an all-round option at No.7, then that takes up one fast-bowling spot – but such a move is far from guaranteed. For the time being, however, let’s assume he is in the team at either No.7 or No.8, offering England’s tail some batting strength.

Ollie Robinson appears to be a shoo-in after an excellent summer, while Mark Wood is England’s fastest bowler. That could see to a shoot-out between England’s two greatest bowlers: James Anderson and Stuart Broad. It’s difficult to imagine England leaving Anderson out, so there is every chance Broad could sit out the first Test.

But, it is also inevitable that Wood will require resting at some point and there will be some rotation between the quicks. There are only three days off between the first and second Tests, so it could well be that England opt for Woakes, Robinson, Wood and Anderson for the first Test before Broad enters the fray in the second Test, which will use a pink ball.

Of course, England could sacrifice some batting security by leaving out Woakes to get both Anderson and Broad in the same XI. The two old-timers bowling together in Australia. Some things never change…

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