England are set to announce their squad for the 2017/18 Ashes this Wednesday, and with many places still to be cemented, there are plenty of English hopefuls that will be eager to force their way into the squad for Australia. There are multiple questions for the England selectors to answer before the first ball is bowled at the Gabba on November 23rd. There are worries over England’s top order, a second spinning option and also who will provide backup for frontline bowlers Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Chris Woakes. We look into some of England’s options for their latest test squad for the Ashes tour.
The idea of a recall of James Vince may turn a few heads, with a test average below 20 from his seven test matches to date, and averaging a modest 34 in this year’s English first class season. However, Vince is very highly rated within the English setup, having frequently impressed when called upon for the one-day side. There is the feeling his strong technique could be well suited to Australian pitches, having impressed in his short spell with Sydney Thunder in last year’s Big Bash League. There are big question marks hanging over the form of England’s current number 3, Tom Westley, who struggled in the home series against both South Africa and the West Indies, with significant technical flaws leaving him suspect to LBW, something that could well be exploited by Australian’s strong pace trio of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood. Likened to England great Michael Vaughan, Vince will be hoping his short success in Australia, along with Westley’s struggles, can earn him a recall to the England Test squad.
Previously deployed as an opener in Test cricket, Hales will be hoping his impressive form in the middle order for his county Nottinghamshire can earn him a recall to the test side in the middle order, with Dawid Malan currently struggling to nail down his position at number 5. So impressive for England in the one-day formats, Hales will be hoping his proven international record in the shorter formats can fill the selectors with hope that he can transfer his hugely impressive form into the test arena. England coach, Trevor Bayliss, stated England are keen to use players previously used in the test setup over the past 18 months, providing Hales with further hope he can force his way back into the setup. Strong off the back foot, Hales will be optimistic his strong short ball game can further forward his case for a place in England’s Ashes squad.
Confusing to many who follow English county cricket, Sam Northeast is never really mentioned when it comes to the selection of England sides. A consistent performer for England youth teams and Lions squads, Northeast has had a remarkable two years for Kent, boasting a staggering batting average of 82.47 for his 1402 runs during the 2016 first class season, followed up by another impressive batting display this summer, averaging 53.53 in four-day cricket. Despite his remarkable statistics, and England’s struggling middle order, Northeast continues to be overlooked, to the frustration of many of his supporters and teammates. A genuine outside call for an Ashes spot, Sam Northeast would provide England with consistent middle order runs if he was finally to be called upon.
Sam Billings may be a long shot for an Ashes call-up, but he is highly regarded by the England selectors and has impressed when required for England’s one-day sides. Further impressive performances in Australia’s Big Bash last year for Sydney Sixers could have convinced the selectors that Billings is the man to provide backup to star gloveman Jonny Bairstow, as well as providing an option to the middle order if injury or poor form requires him to step into the XI. An underwhelming summer and a lack of red-ball cricket seem to have cost England’s ODI vice-captain Jos Buttler a chance to feature in England’s Ashes squad. Billings seems to be in a head-to-head battle with Surrey keeper Ben Foakes for the backup wicketkeeper role in England’s Ashes squad.
A shoe-in for an Ashes spot if 100% fit, Mark Wood will be eager to prove his fitness in the final rounds of County Championship matches in order to cement his place in England’s squad. Wood is strongly favoured by selectors due to his extra pace and ability to reverse the ball at pace with the older ball, he is seen as an ‘X-factor’ bowler and selectors will be hoping he can overcome a heel complaint he has struggled with throughout 2017.
For many, it seems slightly strange that Plunkett has frequently been overlooked for the test side and has not been mentioned by many for an Ashes spot, maybe due to a lack of red-ball cricket this summer. Plunkett seems to be the perfect fit for the hard, bouncy Australian pitches with his fast, hit the deck bowling style. England’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs for 2017, he is in a rich vein of form and would provide good quality backup for Broad, Anderson, and Woakes. The worry over Mark Wood’s fitness could provide Plunkett with a spot in the Ashes squad, providing the option of extra pace.
England are seemingly lacking in the spin department and have been ever since Graeme Swann famously retired during the middle of England’s disastrous previous tour of Australia back in 2013/14, with Adil Rashid surprisingly being overlooked during the English summer despite an impressive winter in India, there seems to be few options to provide a second spin option to Moeen Ali. The next inline looks to be young Mason Crane, who is highly rated by Australian legend Shane Warne, and also impressed by becoming New South Wales’ first overseas player since Imran Khan over 30 years ago. His ability to spin the ball both ways, as well as previous success in Australia could well see Crane selected in England’s 17 man squad for the Ashes tour.
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