Although the home Ashes series was a bit of a walkover for the English team, Australia finished the series quite strongly and we should not underestimate the strength of the Australian team. So, with roughly 50 days until the first test in Brisbane, I am going to run through the England squad and identify my starting XI.
Squad: Cook (C), Prior (VC, WK), Anderson, Bairstow, Ballance, Bell, Broad, Carberry, Finn, Panesar, Pietersen, Rankin, Root, Stokes, Swann, Tremlett, Trott
1, Alastair Cook (C) is one of the best openers in world cricket and as we saw in 2010/11, he loves batting in Australia. His roles as a captain and as a prolific run scorer are vital to the performance of the team.
2, Joe Root opened in all 5 tests in the home Ashes series and showed that he really can dig in and score the hard runs. Ryan Harris got the best of him a few times with some beautiful deliveries, but we should give the young Yorkie a good chance. Root is a fantastic back foot player, and on the quick, bouncy tracks in Australia he should showcase his immense talent.
3, Jonathon Trott may have had his troubles recently against the short ball (especially from Johnson and Harris) but everyone in world cricket knows what Trott can do. He loves to score runs, and more often than not he does exactly that. His form isn’t brilliant at the moment, but apart from moving Ian Bell up the order there is not another ready made number 3 in the same league as Jonathon Trott.
4, Kevin Pietersen is the most dangerous batsman in test cricket (a bold claim, I know). He is a bully, and I can’t wait to see him demolish the Aussie quicks on tracks similar to those he was brought up on in South Africa. He averages 49 against Australia, and 56 down under. Ask any Australian which batsman they don’t want to bowl against, they will say KP.
5, Ian Bell is a four-time Ashes winner, and he was vitally important in the 2013 Ashes victory. He was the leading run scorer in the series amassing a monstrous 562 @ 62 with three centuries and two fifties. Bell’s gorgeous technique and desire for runs is intoxicating. I, like many other cricket fans, could watch him bat and score runs all day long. He is an integral cog in England’s middle order and crucial to the teams performance.
6, Johnny Bairstow claims my number 6 spot… just. There is not much between him and his Yorkshire teammate Gary Ballance but Bairstow edges his way in. He scored impressive runs against the best seam bowling attack in the world when South Africa toured England in 2012, and batted well when he was called upon against Australia. He has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about his strokeplay and has slightly more experience than Ballance. Ballance’s incredible 2013 season saw him score 1363 runs @ 65 with six centuries, but he is very unlucky not to make his debut in Brisbane.
7, Matt Prior (WK) is quite possibly the best keeper/batsman around. His sharp glovework, intensity and free-flowing attacking style make him a hugely useful player. Aside from Adam Gilchrist, I wouldn’t pick any other wicket keeper in my team and that should be praise enough.
8, Stuart Broad, a truly brilliant bowler when he has his tail up, and a great weapon to have coming in at number 8 to hit a quickfire 30 or 40. There have been countless times when Broad has produced a game changing spell of bowling and taken wickets when no other bowler could. His and Anderson’s partnership with the new ball will go a long way to deciding the fate of the series.
9, Graeme Swann is in my opinion the second best spinner in test cricket at the moment (behind Saeed Ajmal) but one of the most consistent bowlers in the past five years. He has years of experience and is becoming more and more wily as the day passes. Australia’s seemingly endless line of left-handed batsmen will struggle massively against the right-handed Swann.
10, James Anderson with a new ball in his hand is a scary sight for any batsman, not because of searing pace, because of his impeccable swing bowling technique. His 300+ test wickets for England speak for themselves and in the past few years he has just got better and better, so much so that he is constantly at the top of the ICC ratings.
11, Monty Panesar would be my second spinner every day of the week and with The Gabba being notoriously a spinning pitch, Monty definitely gets a go in my XI. The whole ‘urinating on a bouncer’ situation was hilarious, but it has passed and I have no doubts in thinking that Monty will really want to make a name for himself should he get the chance.
As I said earlier, Ballance is incredibly unlucky not to be in my XI and I would add that one of either Finn/Tremlett/Rankin would replace Panesar for the remaining four tests when the pitches are not made for spinners. However, Carberry and Stokes do not feature at all in my Ashes team this series (providing there are no injuries).