England have announced their 17-man touring party for this winter’s Ashes series, and there have been one or two surprise call-ups.
Alastair Cook and Joe Root have been selected as expected, and will almost certainly open the batting at Brisbane. The selectors have chosen Michael Carberry as the back-up opener ahead of Nick Compton. Carberry’s form in the County Championship has not been great, but Compton shot himself in the foot when he criticised the selectors for dropping him after the New Zealand series, and his Test career looks to be over despite scoring 889 runs in this year’s County Championship so far.
Yorkshire batsmen Gary Ballance will tour with the main squad with the first time, and will challenge county team-mate Jonny Bairstow for the number six position. Ben Stokes has also received his first call-up after a successful season with Durham, but it seems unlikely that he will play, unless England want a five-man bowling attack. Bairstow has not done enough to nail down a place in the side as yet, so he needs a few big scores this winter. Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell will keep their place at three, four and five respectively. There is more pressure on Trott than at any other point in his Test career, thanks to a poor run of form this summer.
After winning the England Player of the Year award for 2012, Matt Prior has had a disastrous year with the bat so far, but he keeps his place in the squad and is the only specialist wicket-keeper in the tour party. Jonny Bairstow often keeps wicket for Yorkshire, so he will take the gloves if Prior picks up an injury.
The question of who will act as back-up to Graeme Swann this winter has been a difficult one to answer. James Tredwell is England’s best spin bowler in the one-day format, but has struggled to pick up wickets for Kent in the four-day game this season. Monty Panesar has had problems on and off the field, leading to the announcement that Sussex will release him at the end of the season. Simon Kerrigan had done well for the Lions but his Test debut was a catastrophe. With no outstanding candidate, the selectors have gone with the experience of Monty Panesar, while Kerrigan is part of the Lions squad which will be touring Australia at the same time as the main side.
After the obvious selections of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, no-one has nailed down a place in the team as a third seamer. The tall trio of Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin have been chosen, meaning there is no place for top County Championship wicket-taker Graham Onions. This was a surprise given how Onions has a performed for this year’s Division 1 champions, even though his style of bowling may not be suited to the harder Australian wickets. Rankin was the stand-out bowler in the one-day series against Australia, but his performances with the red ball are not comparable to those of Onions. Tremlett did well when he came in to the England side in the last series in Australia, something that has clearly been taken into consideration this time. It is a slight surprise to see Finn in the squad after he only played the first Test against Australia in the summer. Tim Bresnan misses out due to the injury he picked up at the back end of the summer. The group of fast bowlers looks strong but lacks variety, with only Anderson offering something different to the others. I would be concerned if Anderson picked up an injury at any point this winter.
What do you make of England’s Ashes squad?