Whether it is a case of the usual pre-tour bravado or perhaps for once some insightful and honest opinion, it seems the Australia media once again doesn’t give England much hope of victory in the forthcoming Ashes series.
With just over a month until the eagerly-anticipated tour Down Under gets underway, veteran broadcaster Jim Maxwell has come out to say England are sending one of their “worst ever batting line-ups” to Australia and will lose the Ashes series 5-0.
To give him some credit, the 67-year-old Maxwell has seen some of the great, good and bad over the years, and that is not only where England are concerned. But he said England will need “an almighty performance, with Stokes brilliantly throwing his bat, to keep the side together”.
That in itself may not come to fruition with Stokes’ court case for alleged assault pending, but Maxwell added:
“I grew up watching Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter and Geoff Boycott.
“They were very good players. Joe Root’s a good player, but there aren’t many others. Alastair Cook is probably past his best against high quality pace bowling – and that’s exactly what England will have to face from Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
“I think it’s one of the poorest English batting line-ups I have ever seen to come to Australia. The result of the series? Sorry folks: Australia 5-0 England.”
And Maxwell is not alone in his condemnation of the England. Kevin Pietersen has typically had to have his say and got in on the act pretty much writing off England’s chances.
Before bed, I have a comment on England’s Ashes squad – it’s horrendous! They may as well not go!
— KP (@KP24) September 27, 2017
England, who were whitewashed 5-0 on their last tour of Australia, are looking to defend the Ashes which they regained on home soil in 2015.
And despite what Maxwell says, and no doubt many Australians who concur with his thoughts, England’s tour party is not as bad as many portray it to be; it has a good well-balanced squad with just about the right blend of experience and new talent.
Alongside captain Joe Root, there are the likes of former skipper Alastair Cook, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow who all know what an Ashes tour is all about, and will no doubt still have raw memories of the 5-0 hammering Down Under in 2013-14 in their minds. As will Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance who is included in the squad and is back in contention for a Test spot after suffering a fractured finger in the second Test against South Africa in July.
The interesting aspect of the squad is the uncapped new additions and first-timers to a tour. The 24-year-old Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes has been included in the squad for the first time alongside Somerset fast bowler Craig Overton, who is included in place of Mark Wood who has been struggling with an ankle injury. Nottinghamshire’s Jake Ball, who impressed during the summer, deserves his call to tour and is included after a back problem ruled out Toby Roland-Jones.
They are joined by Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane, who has spent most of the summer with the England Test squad and is selected as one of two specialist spinners. Crane, 20, has played two T20 internationals for England and was an unused member for the Test series against the Windies, will now bid to earn a place in the Ashes side alongside Moeen Ali.
He has played just seven first-class matches for Hampshire this season taking 16 wickets at 43.87 apiece but by all accounts impressed many when he became the first overseas player to represent Australian state side New South Wales for 32 years last winter.
Hampshire top order batsman James Vince returns to the squad for the first time since August 2016. He will be looking to add to his seven caps where he has averaged just 19 runs before he was dropped after last summer’s series against Pakistan.
He replaces Tom Westley in the 16-man squad and may have cause to be aggrieved at missing out with Dawid Malan and Mark Stoneman also included in the tour party despite struggling to score runs consistently for England over the summer.
Official announcement: Here is our squad for the #Ashes.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 27, 2017
Typically, England national team selector James Whitaker has been upbeat about the choice of selection, saying:
“A tour of Australia is the ultimate test for our squad. We have provided Joe Root and Trevor Bayliss with a well-balanced squad with options in all areas.
“Surrey’s Ben Foakes deserves his selection for the first time at this level. His glovework has been exemplary and he is regarded as a wicketkeeper of the highest quality. He has the ability to contribute with the bat scoring over 680 runs in the Championship this summer at an average of 45.33.
“The selectors are backing James Vince to make an impact on his recall to the Test squad. He is a quality stroke-player and we believe his game will suit the Australian pitches. His understanding of the England set-up will help him settle into the environment quickly and hit the ground running when we arrive in Perth next month.”
Whilst some may have reservations about the lack of experience and perhaps a soft under-belly particularly where England’s top order is concerned, they are able to call upon a wealth of experience to guide them along. In addition to current full-time members of staff, former New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond has been appointed fast bowling consultant and will be part of the England management team up to the end of second Test in Australia. Former England One-day captain Paul Collingwood will take a coaching role during the Test series and the ODIs against Australia, whilst Kent’s Head Coach, Matt Walker, will assist England management for the IT20 Tri-Series in Australia and New Zealand.
On balance, the squad is a good one – despite what many critics are saying – and as we have seen in previous years, there is normally a surprise package or two that emerges from either side that can tip the balance between Ashes success and failure. In this case, it is more likely to come from the tourists and not the hosts.
Whilst a few places are essentially up for grabs and still uncertain, the make-up of England’s Test side is pretty much straightforward one would think. However, the same could not be said for the upcoming hosts as for my mind Australia still do not really know what their best side is.
They have some similar problems at the top of the order and in the middle, which one feels could be exposed early with England’s combination of experience and young guns with the ball. Admittedly the same could be said for England’s batting line-up with the likes of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood waiting in the wings ready to wreak havoc.
It all adds up for another absorbing Ashes Series in the making, and for those of you with reservations that another hiding Down Under could be on the cards, look a little deeper into the England squad first and write them off at your peril.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 27, 2017
England Ashes Squad
Joe Root (Yorkshire) – captain
Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)
James Anderson (Lancashire)
Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)
Jake Ball (Nottinghamshire)
Gary Ballance (Yorkshire)
Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire)
Alastair Cook (Essex)
Mason Crane (Hampshire)
Ben Foakes (Surrey)
Dawid Malan (Middlesex)
Craig Overton (Somerset)
Ben Stokes (Durham)
Mark Stoneman (Surrey)
James Vince (Hampshire)
Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)