England have now failed to win a home Ashes series for the first time in 18 years. Something clearly needs to change. Throughout the four Tests, England looked at least four batsmen short of even an average Test batting lineup, and their best bowlers were blunted by Smith’s annoyingly effective technique.
England’s reaction to failures in the past has been both incremental (changing only one player at a time even if several underperformed) and arbitrary (dropping a player whose face doesn’t fit rather than someone who did less well). As this series has proven, this flawed incrementalism has not worked.
With Bayliss leaving next week, now is the ideal time to make wholesale changes to what is currently a very poor team. If England don’t have a competitive Test side by the time they visit South Africa in December, they may well have to kiss any chance of success in the new Test Championship goodbye. So here is my reasoning, player-by player, for why no one should keep their place in the side:
Rory Burns – Why not start with the most controversial? He averages 40.37 in this Ashes (although just 28.86 in all Tests), and so has almost certainly assured his place in the side for the next year. The question the ECB really need to answer is who will be his partner. The quickest way to find another opener would be to try two candidates at the same time in a few games and picking the best one.
There is an argument that England should field their strongest team, which would certainly include Burns at the moment, for the final Test. England can still draw the series and gain some Test Championship points, after all. I would argue, if the Test Championship is made a priority like the World Cup was four years ago, that this is the perfect opportunity to try new things in the team. Because the same number of points are divided up for each series, regardless of the number of Tests, a further loss at The Oval (Where you can only win or lose almost half the points available if it was a game in a three Test series) will have little impact on the league table. The next two Tests in New Zealand are not part of the Championship at all. This is, I would argue, the perfect time to try some new players in the team.
Joe Denly – This is perhaps a bit harsh, having just scored a valiant 53 in a losing cause, but he isn’t going to be England’s opener for the next two years of the Test Championship. He has demonstrated some application in the last two games, which is more than many others can say, but it feels to me like we’ve seen him reaching his potential in Test cricket and it still isn’t good enough.
Joe Root – The England captain’s batting average in 2019 is 28.56, which is perhaps good enough for England (he’s the third-highest runscorer this year behind Stokes and Burns), but far below what he is capable of. He has been on the England treadmill for the last five years, playing a key part in the Test and ODI sides, not to mention the burden of captaincy. All of which might suggest that he is burned out, and in need of a rest. Hopefully that is the case, and his poor performances aren’t the result of something more serious, and harder to solve.
Jason Roy – Played 5 Tests. Batting average of 18.70. I was honestly surprised it was that high.
Ben Stokes – England’s player of the series (and summer), but reportedly carrying an injury. Given his importance to the team, I don’t think England should risk him for the relatively meaningless next few games. Anderson’s series-ending injury in the first Test of this series shows the folly of playing a talismanic player when they aren’t fully fit. It would be better for England’s chances in the Test Championship if he comes into the South Africa series this winter without any lingering health issues, and well-rested.
Jos Buttler – Averages 22.00 with the bat in 2019. As a specialist batsman. Enough said, really.
Although I will add that Jos is an unbelievable T20 batsman. We have all seen what has happened to England’s best Test batsmen when they’ve attempted to adapt to ODI and T20 batting. Cook, Root and Bairstow’s Test batting techniques all seemed to suffer as a result of incorporating a more aggressive style. I worry with Buttler that the opposite might also be true, that batting in Tests might blunt his awesome power hitting.
Jonny Bairstow – Averaging 20.56 in 2019. Also not as good a wicketkeeper as Ben Foakes.
Craig Overton – 2 wickets at an average of 53.50 in his first game after a recall is hardly a ringing endorsement. Nor is his career Test bowling average (from only four games) of 44.77. George Dobell, who has probably seen quite a few Somerset games, actually rates his brother Jamie as the bowler more likely to succeed for England. Despite having the better first-class bowling average of the two, Craig might not even be the best bowler in his family (as Jimmy Ormond might say).
Jofra Archer – Whenever the ECB stumble upon a quality bowler, they typically have one of two responses. First, they seek to improve them by tinkering. This doesn’t seem to have worked once in the past few years, but they try anyway. The second thing they do is to grind any promising Test bowler into dust by overbowling them. This is clearly what is happening to Archer right now. Despite being the quickest bowler available to England, and only playing three Tests, Archer is only behind Broad (who has played four Tests) in terms of overs bowled in this series. He desparately needs time off, before England turn him into just another fast-medium bowler.
Stuart Broad – 33 years old, and has bowled by far the most overs of any English bowlers in this series. Without a rest, and soon, this story only ends one way…
Jack Leach – Perhaps the hardest player to drop of the XI. A series bowling average of 30.37 is pretty good for a spinner in England, although an economy rate of 3.29 per over is probably a touch higher than he’d be happy with. Crucially, there aren’t a lot of players who could take his place. Rashid is injured, Moeen has only played one first-class game since been dropped, and the rest haven’t consistently shown the ability to step up to Test cricket. Not to mention, Leach’s batting has been quite useful for a tail ender. I have to admit, I may have made a mistake dropping all eleven. He can stay.
Any thoughts about who you’d pick for the final Test, or on any other subject, are welcome below.