England will try to retain the Ashes in Australia this winter – but who should be in Joe Root’s squad?
Sky Sports Cricket formed a five-strong selection committee at Lord’s to debate the key issues and pick a 16-strong party for the tour, ahead of the first Test in November.
Click on the video above to see who chairman David Gower, joined by fellow former captains Mike Atherton, Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain – plus Australian legend Shane Warne went with, then read on to find out how some of the key decisions were reached.
With Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman cemented in the opening positions for now, debate quickly turned to whether Joe Root should bat at number three and if not whether Tom Westley – who averages 24 in nine Test innings – deserves to be included…
SHOULD TOM WESTLEY AND DAWID MALAN GO?
Nasser Hussain: “I don’t like it when players out of the side become better. I like to give players who have given it a crack in an England shirt all summer in difficult conditions first go. People seem to have separated Westley from Dawid Malan – almost saying Malan is going but Westley’s not. Westley averaged 24 this summer, Malan 23, so there’s not much between them. We’ve all seen Malan’s got a bit of character so you’d like him on the plane. Yes, Westley on the last day against Windies was playing against an attack that was out on its feet but he was batting in the last-chance saloon and walked off 44no – that shows a bit of character. I would like to give him first chance – unless there is someone better.”
Shane Warne: “I’d have Joe Root at three and Alex Hales at four because I think Hales has got a better game for Australian conditions. Westley has got a few technical issues he needs to sort out otherwise I think he’ll get worked over in Australia. I agree with what Nasser says about that 44no but if you needed to get runs to get on the plane you wouldn’t mind facing that Windies attack; they hadn’t given up but they knew it was over. Westley hasn’t done enough for me. I think Malan has got something about him – he’s maybe one of the spare batsmen, but I think Hales is a better player than Westley.”
WHO IS THE SECOND SPINNER – MASON CRANE or JACK LEACH?
Mike Atherton: “England have gone for Crane in their squad of late and Adil Rashid, who had a pretty decent winter, looks as though he’s been overlooked. The guy whose figures stand out over the last two years of first-class cricket is Leach from Somerset. Looking at Mason Crane’s figures you’d have to say he’s lucky to be selected but they clearly see a guy who has taken wickets Down Under for New South Wales; they’re picking on potential, and I’m a bit wary of that selection and I’d go for Rashid before Crane.”
NH: “Samit Patel will be thought about, perhaps not so much for red-ball cricket, but he’s had a very good red-ball season. He was very upset when Liam Dawson got into the squad ahead of him but I wouldn’t have Samit on the big grounds of Australia. I have the same concerns as Ath about Mason Crane; if he goes he’s got to play. I don’t want him carrying the drinks. He needs to be bowling with the Lions and you could take Rashid as your spinner. It’s 50-50 for me.”
WHO IS BAIRSTOW’S BACK-UP – JOS BUTTLER OR BEN FOAKES?
MA: “Sam Billings is a bit like Jos Buttler – you couldn’t make an inclusion for him on first-class returns, only on potential and what you see. If you pick Buttler, who hasn’t been scoring first-class runs, but you say he’s got the potential to be a dangerous player – what are you then saying to the rest of county cricket?”
SW: “It’s pretty hard to pick Buttler as a reserve ‘keeper given how little he does it. You’re more picking him as a utility player who could keep or maybe come in as a batsman. He’s an experienced guy around the group, so there is an argument for him but do you want to reward someone like Foakes, who is an out-and-out ‘keeper. The word from Alec Stewart is ‘he’s the guy’.”
WHO MAKES AUSTRALIA’S SQUAD?
SW: “The Aussie squad is pretty settled. There is no-one jumping out as a young batsman so the top six is settled. Usman Khawaja looked terrible against spin in Bangladesh but he plays fast bowling well and has been in good form in Australia. Handscomb has done unbelievably well in Test match cricket since he’s come in – he’s a very different type of player, who plays off the back foot, but a good all-round player. Maxwell provides the X-factor in the top six – he’s tightened his technique up a bit and can really get hold of you. Matthew Wade is short of runs; everyone was doubting his wicketkeeping but it has improved out of sight only for his batting to go off.
“If fit Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon will be the bowlers – if not, Pattinson will come in.”
WHO IS GOING TO WIN THE 2017/18 ASHES?
NH: “England if they get first-innings runs and Joe Root bats at three.”
SW: “If Australia’s bowlers stay fit, then Australia, but I think it will be a very, very close series.”
MA: “Historically Australia are very hard to beat at home so I’m sneaking with them.”