The 5th of January 2014, the Ashes are finally over. Australia have beaten England 5-0. It is the end of their worst ever Ashes tour. 18 months later the Aussies will return to English soil. But can England take revenge?
England have had to make changes and the ride hasn’t always been smooth. Kevin Pietersen’s international career is over- England don’t need him back. Gary Ballance has bedded in well at number three and Moeen Ali’s spin was crucial against India. England did suffer defeats, two possibly even worse than their Ashes humiliation. England were beaten in the last over against Sri Lanka after a batting collapse only too similar to those that they had suffered in Australia, and against a much weaker bowling attack. But this was nothing compared to what was to soon follow. England were bowled out for 223, playing the short ball like a Sunday league team who weren’t wearing any helmets. The batsmen appeared scared, and the reckless shots that were played showed no responsibility.
But things have changed. Alastair Cook enjoyed a welcome return to form and Joe Root became the prolific run scorer that his potential had promised. Jos Buttler brought a more modern feel to the side and the energy and enthusiasm in their cricket increased. This resulted in three convincing wins, with England returning to number three in the ICC World Test Rankings.
But we must keep our feet on the ground. This was an overall shaky performance against a team who England should have comfortably been beating. India lacked experience, and their most talented player, Virat Kohli, was totally out of form. There were positives, but there are still doubts about how similar and ineffective the bowling attack is. Sam Robson’s form as opener was not good enough and the lack of a front line spinner could turn out to be a problem.
When the Aussies come to town, this level of performance may not be good enough anymore. There are massive differences between Shikhar Dhawan and David Warner, Ishant Sharma and Mitchell Johnson, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith. England must make changes to both their style of play and personnel to have a chance in the Ashes.
The selectors appear to have decided that seven tests are enough for them to see that Sam Robson isn’t capable of partnering Alastair Cook at the top of the order. Robson has been left out of the test squad for the tour of West Indies and has been replaced by Adam Lyth, who as the only other natural opener in the squad is likely to make his test debut. Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Joe Root all delivered during the series against India, so despite the inclusion of Jonathan Trott in a test squad for the first time since 2013, should keep their place.
The real problem is with Moeen Ali batting at six. Against India his off-spin bowling was key to England winning the series, but his batting was poor. He consistently had problems facing the short ball from the likes of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc will bowl much faster. If you can’t face the short ball, however good your bowling is, you can’t bat at number six in an Ashes test match. With Moeen unavailable for the tour of the West Indies through injury, Adil Rashid will have the chance to make his test debut after an impressive season with Yorkshire.
There can be no doubt that Jos Buttler is now England’s number one test wicketkeeper, as he is the only ‘keeper named in the squad. This leaves the bowlers. It seems that the selectors have decided to play four front line seamers with an all-rounder as the spin bowling option, who will most likely be Moeen Ali. Despite their struggles in matches away from home, James Anderson and Stuart Broad appear to be a guaranteed selection so they will make up two of the four spots. The third spot will most likely be fought out between Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan so to give England a different dimension with the pace that the pair offers. But, due to their inconsistent performances, they are unlikely to play in the same XI.
The final spot will be filled by either Chris Woakes or Ben Stokes. Woakes was selected for the final three tests of the series against India and has been a fixture in the ODI team of late. He is however a very similar bowler to James Anderson as someone who puts the ball on line and length consistently. Stokes offers a bit more pace than Anderson and Broad and more in the field. Stokes was also the only player to score a century for England in the 2013/14 Ashes so helps lengthen the batting order. Despite the fact he had a poor series with the bat against India, the selection of Stokes could be key because he is the only player in the squad who has the ability to change a game with both bat and ball in a very short period of time.
Though it is clear that the Australians have a better side than the English, with the correct team selection and performance level, there is no reason why England can’t cause a shock and bring the Ashes back to England.