Television commentators were speculating during the final Test in Hobart about what a combined Ashes series ‘best of’ team might look like. I thought I would have a go as well.
Here’s my combined XI.
1. David Warner (vc)
2. Zak Crawley
3. Marnus Labuschagne
4. Joe Root
5. Travis Head
6. Usman Khawaja
7. Alex Carey
8. Mitchell Starc
9. Pat Cummins (c)
10. Scott Boland
11. Nathan Lyon
12th man: Mark Wood.
For openers, I have opted for David Warner and, perhaps surprisingly, Zak Crawley. Despite Warner’s pair in Hobart, the couple of 90s in the early part of the series set the tone for the series.
The selection of Crawley may be odd but he does have a presence at the crease, made a number of starts and his 77 in Sydney was high quality. He edges out Marcus Harris. It is instructive that the opening slots are the hardest to fill, given that both sides suffered from lack of consistent opening stands.
At No.3 is Marnus Labuschagne with a fine hundred (despite receiving a number of chances) in Adelaide and other good scores. Rated the No.1 batsman in the world, Labuschange provides top order solidity and ability to wear down the new ball attack.
Despite not achieving the coveted three figures on Australian soil, Joe Root batted reasonably well mostly batting in crisis situations. How he would love to bat with more runs on the board. Of concern was his tendency to get out in the same manner, flirting outside off stump. He edges out Steve Smith who did not have a great series by his stellar benchmarks.
Number 5 is clearly Travis Head with his twin centuries, other useful scores and match of the series status. His batting has improved markedly and his aggression in this spot provided the impetus when the team innings needed it.
At No.6 is Usman Khawaja even though he did not bat in that position during the series. Twin centuries in Sydney seals his spot.
It was difficult to leave Cameron Green out. His bowling was penetrating and incisive, but batting remains a work in progress despite some promising signs.
The keeping position goes to Alex Carey who generally kept well but as the series progressed did find the going a bit tougher. Perhaps not having the slip fielders spaced widely enough contributed to this. Carey did not quite get going with bat but his knock in Hobart was useful, in resuscitating a wobbly innings.
In the pace department, and indeed the whole bowling unit, Australian bowlers dominate. Mitchell Starc had a fine series, was hostile and swung the ball, although tailing off towards the end.
Pat Cummins was an inspiration, with his relentless line, ability to move the ball and taking the crucial wickets at watershed moments. Cummins also proved to a fine leader and obtains the captaincy clearly while I have opted for David Warner as vice-captain.
Joe Root’s captaincy has come under fire consistently and as such I left him out of the leadership.
Scott Boland was an absolute revelation in his debut series with his impeccable line and length and just enough movement to cause mayhem. His devastating display in Melbourne was a series highlight and mesmerising.
Nathan Lyon bowled well for the most part, getting good grip, drift and bounce and was head and shoulders the best spinner among the teams. He made important breakthroughs including in Brisbane to remove the lengthy and threatening partnership between Root and Dawid Malan, although it should be noted that not for the first time was he unable to decisively bowl a team out on the final day, as we saw in Sydney.
Mark Wood was impressive and England’s best bowler over the course of the series, the highlight being the six-wicket haul in Hobart. He was energetic, hostile and fully committed to the cause right to the end. However, it is hard to put him in the team ahead of the Australian quicks and as such he gets the 12th man spot.
Ollie Robinson would also be in the conversation for the 12th man spot.
Interestingly, this series can be seen as the one for the lesser lights. The dominance of the usual suspects in Ben Stokes and Steve Smith was absent while the rise of the likes of Scott Boland and Travis Head was notable.
The fact that only two England players find themselves in this combined line-up speaks volumes for the way the series panned out.