England coach Chris Silverwood has called his Ashes Squad “battle hardened” ahead of the Tour to Australia and the quest to regain the Ashes urn.
With several key players missing, who has been selected to try and win their first Ashes away series since 2011?
There has been much written about the politics of the upcoming series but with both sides coming to an agreement and the tour confirmed, attention can focus on what matters most – the players who will take the field.
England have selected 17 players with a combination of proven talent and exciting potential. On the one hand, the squad looks strong with the best Test batsman in the world at the moment in skipper Joe Root, Dave Warner’s bogeyman in Stuart Broad and the leading pace wicket-taker in test cricket history in Jimmy Anderson. However, there is also a lot of inexperience in the squad and some notable absentees.
Key players including Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Olly Stone and Sam Curran are all out injured and all-rounder Moeen Ali recently retired from Test cricket.
So who has made the Tour and what should we expect from them?
Joe Root (captain)
The England skipper is going into the Ashes in career-best form. He’s averaging over 66 this year and has six tons already to his name – adding his first (and second, and third) Ashes’ century in Australia to this tally will be crucial if England are to apply scoreboard pressure to the home side.
As the Barmy Army pointed out recently, Root is just 80 odd runs shy of scoring more runs in 2021 than his opposite number, Tim Paine, has scored in his Test career. Obviously, they play different roles for their country and Paine could reply quite simply with a reminder of who currently holds the Ashes. But the point is obvious – Root is the key for England and his wicket will be at the top of the priority list for Paine and his men.
Root’s leadership still comes under scrutiny but he’s growing into the role and becoming better on-field tactician. He can’t win the Ashes for England but if he fails then they stand no chance.
— England's Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) October 9, 2021
As Anderson continues to defy critics with yet another England tour, the man who picked up his 1000th first-class wicket this year will know that this is likely his last Ashes trip.
He might not have the out and out pace to scare batsmen but his control and mastery of the swinging ball has seen him tear top orders to pieces. The questions about whether this is one tour too many are getting louder though and it’s unlikely he’ll play every Test. If he can put in one more heroic effort in Brisbane and get England off to a strong start in the opening test then he’ll have earned a rest.
But can he deliver the same level of threat away from England? He’s definitely a better bowler at home but you’d be foolish to bet against him.
Bairstow seems to play better when he’s angry and feels as if he’s got a point to prove so perhaps Silverwood should threaten him with being dropped just before the Gabba and see what happens.
When in form, Bairstow can be a devastating batsman who takes the score away from teams with aggressive strokeplay. However he’s struggled recently with capitalising on decent starts and was dismissed four times in England’s recent series with scores between 29 and 37.
England’s middle-order will be missing some important talent and a big series from Bairstow could have the crowd whispering “Stokes who?”
The 24 year old off spinner will know that this Ashes tour could make or break his England aspirations.
After a good start to his international career in 2018, he has drifted in and out of the side. Despite picking up 17 wickets at an average of 22 runs on England’s tour to Asia in early 2021 he was dropped before the Indian leg of the trip. When he was brought back in for the final test he’d lost all confidence and struggled horribly, even declaring that he had started to hate the sport.
A change of county in the 2021 domestic season has seen him find his rhythm and love once again and a series of good performances have got him a seat on the plane to Australia.
He’ll need to maintain that rhythm and show Root that he’s a reliable spinner who can tie up an end as well as pick up the odd wicket, otherwise Jack Leach will likely be first choice.
Fans will be excited to see the battle between Broad and Dave Warner continue when the Ashes begin in Brisbane. In the last series in England Broad dismissed Warner seven times in 104 balls prompting a suite of memes of the Aussie opener snuggled in comfortably in the English’s pocket.
Like Anderson, this will likely be Broad’s last Ashes tour and after a poor trip in 2017-18 where he picked up just 11 wickets, he’ll be wanting to make it one to remember.
England will need both his lively bounce and movement as well as his control as they cannot afford to leak quick runs in the opening overs of an innings.
Whilst his style might have many fans assuming he’s a walking wicket, Burns was able to impress in the 2019 Ashes series where he was the top scoring opener from either team. He scored his maiden test century in that series too and followed it up with two decent 50s against India.
He needs to turn this potential into big runs in this tour. England cannot hope to succeed if their openers aren’t putting together solid partnerships at the top of the order. Root can’t do everything!
Buttler is one of 10 of the England squad who have never toured Australia before and his personality is perfect for a gritty, tough, Ashes series. Can he back that up though with the runs that he’s shown he is so capable of in the shorter formats of the game?
In 2021 he has struggled with just one fifty from 10 test innings and without his middle order partner in crime Stokes, he will know that his team will be looking to him for crucial quick runs throughout the series.
He has been one of the more hesitant players when it comes to the potential quarantine restrictions and that’s hardly surprising – he’s got a young family with his youngest daughter born just a month ago and with playing in the T20 World Cup, he’s having to be away from his family for a long time potentially.
A beautiful batsman to watch when in form, Crawley has been hinting at great things without being able to dominate at test level. He scored a wonderful 267 against Pakistan in 2020 but hasn’t managed another century since then and was dropped from the side during the series against India.
But the England management clearly feel that he’s got what it takes to succeed at the top level and have preferred Crawley ahead of other potential top order players such as Dom Sibley.
His test average of 28.34 from 26 innings isn’t good enough but he has the style to succeed in Australia with a strong back foot game.
When Hameed debuted for England as an opener five years ago, his scores in India of 31 and 82 had many feeling that the team had finally found an opening partner for Alistair Cook. Unfortunately, he didn’t press on and lost not only his England spot but even his domestic county contract.
But he has fought his way back to the top of cricket, earning a recall to England this year. When he scored a duck in the first innings at Lords many were concerned that the search for a partner for Rory Burns would have to continue but 24-year-old Hameed went on to score two confident 60s in the series and will open in Brisbane.
Despite an impressive talent, Australia will not fear him and will feel that he’s ripe for early dismissal.
Lawrence is an exciting middle-order batsman who has been tagged as a future England success ever since he became the third-youngest player ever to score a domestic Championship century when he was just 17 years old.
Having scored an unbeaten 81 against New Zealand during England’s recent series against the Kiwis, he was dropped from the test squad and may well be more of a backup player than a consistent member of the first XI.
Although Leach would present himself as a slow left arm bowler, it’s his innings with the bat that have made him famous so far in his Test career. That incredible performance where he stuck alongside Stokes at Leeds in 2019 as England somehow won the match and of course his 92 runs that saved the day when England took on Ireland at Lords earlier that same season.
He has shown in the past though that whilst he might not produce as much drift or turn as other spinning options, he is more reliable and Root will need a slow bowler who he can depend upon during the tough times in the field.
As with several of the England party, this is a crucial tour for Leach who will want to cement his position as first-choice spinner in the team and make a name for himself because of his wickets rather than his ability to hang around with the bat.
A maiden Test 50 for Jack Leach!!
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 25, 2019
Having started off his test career with some promising performances, including a 140 at Perth in 2017/18, Malan has been missing in action from the England test scene. But he hasn’t been quiet.
Instead, he shone in the T20 format and in 2019 he became ranked as the best batsman in the world with 213 runs from the matches against Pakistan and Australia. He went on to become the fastest batsman to score 1000 runs in T20 earlier this year and in August earned a test recall, scoring 70 in his first innings against India.
His natural batting talent is unquestioned and England will be hoping that he can turn his T20 form into big test match runs. With Root preferring to bat at number four, the number three spot is there for the taking and Malan will want to grasp it with both hands.
Overton has been regarded as a future England star for a while but has struggled to deliver the consistent results that are needed to hold down a spot.
With his 1.96 metre height, he’s able to get a lot of bounce from the ball when he bowls and is able to deliver long spells with decent accuracy – something that could be very useful on those long Australian summer afternoons.
He’s had a few brushes with authority over the years and even got banned for two matches of the domestic season in 2015, with one incident leading to him having to have sessions with a psychotherapist to help appease the authorities.
He’s played in three Ashes Tests already – losing all three – but performed well against India earlier this year when he took 6 for 61 to help England win at Headingley. With Broad and Anderson unlikely to play in every test, Root will be looking to players like Overton to step up and take on the load.
England fans have been waiting for Ollie Pope to stamp his name on test cricket ever since he scored 135 not out against South Africa and showed an attacking flair that had fans from all sides applauding.
He hasn’t been able to beat that score to date but has picked up six half-centuries from his 34 innings at test level.
Again Stokes’ absence means that someone just like Pope is going to need to have a very good Ashes series if England are going to prevail. He might not be able to offer anything with the ball like Stokes can, but a big series with the bat would be of huge value to England. He’s got the attacking ability to take innings away from Australia but has also shown that he can try and attack too much and gives away his wicket.
After an impressive debut where Robinson picked up seven wickets and 42 runs against New Zealand earlier this year, the Sussex bowler was banned for eight matches for racist and sexist tweets he’d previously sent.
After the ban, he picked up where he left off though and was the leading wicket-taker for England against India.
Root will want to see the same form in Australia and if Robinson can find some early form then he could have a very good series. His lack of out and out pace could cause him difficulties though and if his line is wayward then the Australian batsmen are likely to cash in.
So often regarded as the weaker all-rounder compared to Stokes, Woakes should not be forgotten about as a genuinely important player in England’s Ashes plans.
He’s had a rough past 18 months with forced isolation and injury but his return to England test duty reminded everyone why he is just so valuable. His 50 and seven wickets in the 4th Test earlier this year when the rest of his team struggled against an inform Indian side showed that he’s a genuine all rounder who opponents should not take for granted.
Will likely be asked to do some grunt work with the ball and will need to offer Root something with both the bat and ball but he’s definitely got the ability and experience to be a crucial part of the English team.
With Archer out injured, Root will need Wood to deliver his 140kph+ pace in the same way that he did at Lord’s earlier this year where he destroyed the Indian top three. But it can’t just be one special spell in the series – Wood and his body need to hold up to an entire series of delivering accuracy and scary pace.
This is something he’s struggled to do in the past but on his day there aren’t too many batsmen who can cope with his speed and bounce.
There have been plenty of comments that this England side are not up to the challenge that awaits them. England hero Ian Botham also suggested in the Daily Telegraph that some of the squad “don’t fancy the ultimate Test” when the negotiations about isolation conditions were carrying on.
But with Australia losing to a weakened India side 1-2 not too long ago, Silverwood and Root might just have found a game plan to unsettle the home side.
England Ashes Squad to Tour Australia
Joe Root (Captain, Yorkshire), Jimmy Anderson (Lancashire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Dom Bess (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Rory Burns (Surrey), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Zak Crawley (Kent), Haseeb Hameed (Nottinghamshire), Dan Lawrence (Essex), Jack Leach (Somerset), Dawid Malan (Yorkshire), Craig Overton (Somerset), Ollie Pope (Surrey), Ollie Robinson (Sussex), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham)