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Picking the England XI for the first Ashes Test at the Gabba

Picking The England XI For The First Ashes Test At The Gabba
by Wisden Staff 5 minute read

Five Wisden writers have their say on what the England XI should be for the first Test of this winter’s Ashes, which begins at the Gabba on December 8.

England have named a surprisingly settled squad for the upcoming Ashes tour, despite having lost six of their last nine Tests, and won just one. The squad contains no debutants, and all involved played Test cricket during the 2021 English summer.

That doesn’t mean there’s no room for debate, however. Zak Crawley has been recalled to the squad, and with his technique rated by some as ready-made for Australian conditions, there will be a temptation to slot him straight back in atop the order. In the middle order, all of Jonny Bairstow, Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope have impressed to some extent in recent times, but none has nailed down a place. The balance of the bowling attack also bears consideration. England have been reluctant to field a Test XI in fast-bowling friendly conditions with just three quicks in their side, but, in the absence of usual all-rounders Moeen Ali, Sam Curran and Ben Stokes, will either have to find a makeshift option at No.7, leave out a spinner, or lump it and go with just a trio of seamers.

Here are the XIs our writers ended up with.

YOU CAN PICK YOUR ENGLAND XI FOR THE ASHES TEST HERE WITH OUR TEAM SELECTOR

Taha Hashim (Wisden.com features editor)

Haseeb Hameed
Rory Burns
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Dan Lawrence
Jos Buttler (wk)
Chris Woakes
Ollie Robinson
Mark Wood
James Anderson

I thought long and hard about Woakes at No.7, where he’s performed when given the chance: six knocks have resulted in a ton, a fourth-innings special against Pakistan and an average of 70.25. That would’ve opened the door to four quicks and a spinner.

But England are up against it and probably need a bit more safety in the batting department – in comes Dan Lawrence to leave Woakes at No.8. I’m annoyed at myself for not picking a frontline twirler but the remaining quicks all have a case: Wood’s got the extra pace, Robinson’s still enjoying the honeymoon, and Anderson’s Anderson.

Cameron Ponsonby (Wisden.com writer)

Rory Burns
Haseeb Hameed
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Jos Buttler (wk)
Chris Woakes
Ollie Robinson
Mark Wood
Jack Leach
JamesAnderson

I think you have to pick a spinner so Leach is in for me. And by picking a spinner that means you have to also pick an all-rounder to still have four seamers. So Woakes is also in. You also want someone bowling at high pace, which means Wood is in. And you also have to pick Robinson through the sheer weight of his performances. So that’s Robinson in. That leaves one bowling space to be filled by one of either Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad. And for the first Test at least I’d plump for Anderson because…well…he’s Jimmy Anderson. Over the course of the five Tests however I’d imagine Anderson, Broad and Wood will rotate on a three into two basis. And if Broad is going to have to miss a game may as well make it the first one to make him as angry as possible which will then make him 5mph faster for the rest of the series.

Phil Walker (Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief)

Rory Burns
Zak Crawley
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Jos Buttler (wk)
Dan Lawrence
Chris Woakes
Ollie Robinson
Mark Wood
James Anderson

Here’s a smidge of empty positivity, in the context of overwhelming pessimism: I’m pretty sure that Zak Crawley is an international-class player who, with a little confidence, can hit good-length balls – of which there will be many – for four. (Whether he can keep enough of them out is another matter.) I’m minded to think that Ollie Pope, a fella who averages 100 at The Oval and who’s already got an overseas hundred against a good pace attack, possesses the fundaments to bat long on good pitches. Jos Buttler, you would think, has the back-foot game to threaten some damage against a tiring attack. On his only other visit to Australia, Dan Lawrence was majestic for the Lions and was 20 minutes from a century against New Zealand just four Test innings ago. Malan and Bairstow both have overseas Ashes hundreds, and Root is the No.1 player in the world. Pre-pandemic Mark Wood had claimed two Player of the Match awards in three overseas Tests, and Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Robinson are at least relentlessly accurate. We can save the other stuff, the kind of flimflam that may yet pass for more balanced analysis, for another day.

Jo Harman (Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine editor)

Haseeb Hameed
Rory Burns
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Dan Lawrence
Jos Buttler (wk)
Chris Woakes
Ollie Robinson
Mark Wood
James Anderson

This is the least wrong side I could come up with, because there are no perfect options. Ideally I’d have Leach in there as a genuine spinner rather than relying on some bits and pieces from Root, but that would mean dropping the extra batter and everyone from No.6 downwards being a place too high. If England can escape from the Gabba with a draw then it’ll feel almost as good as a win so batting depth must take priority. Bairstow’s century on England’s last visit to Australia lingers tantalisingly in the memory, but Lawrence’s bumper Lions tour the winter before last feels more relevant – especially when you consider Bairstow has managed one fifty in his last 24 Test knocks – so the Essex right-hander gets the nod at No.6. As for the seamers, Wood’s extra pace is essential, as is Woakes’ batting ability, while Robinson was England’s best bowler this summer by a distance. That leaves a straight shootout between the all-timers, with Broad left to stew on the sidelines, preparing his latest act of righteous vengeance for the second Test at Adelaide.

Ben Gardner (Wisden.com managing editor)

Haseeb Hameed
Rory Burns
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Dan Lawrence
Jos Buttler (wk)
Chris Woakes
Ollie Robinson
Craig Overton
Stuart Broad

This is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube when someone has switched two of the squares around. You can rotate it all you like, but you’ll never get it to work.  Given the first Test is at the Gabba, and Australia never lose the first Test at the Gabba, and especially not to this England side, Chris Silverwood’s best bet is to set out his stall for a draw and spring a surprise for the day-nighter, all while keeping his prize, most injury-prone quicks in hiding. If the seamers can bowl dry and Dan Lawrence and Joe Root can get through enough overs of spin, then maybe the inevitable Smith-Labuschagne triple-century stand can take up enough time that batting decently a couple of times is enough to force a stalemate. I understand this isn’t what they will do (for that, look to Jo and Taha), but that’s not the point of these things, is it?

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