Magellan Ashes 2017-18

Muddled selections a concern for England

Selectors have reverted to former Test failures in bid to retain Ashes

Chris Stocks London

28 September 2017, 09:24 AM AEST

In the end, the announcement of England's squad for the forthcoming Magellan Ashes was overshadowed somewhat by the controversy surrounding Ben Stokes.

However, away from the drama surrounding the world's premier allrounder and his ill-advised night out in Bristol, England picked a squad that can only be described as underwhelming, uninspiring and, if we're being brutally honest, worrying in terms of hopes for a competitive series this Australian summer.

WATCH: Alleged footage of Stokes' Bristol brawl

Everybody knows Steve Smith's side are far from the finished article. But against this selection of England players, they look nailed on to dominate the Ashes.

There are obviously proven match-winners within the touring party, players such as captain Joe Root, Alastair Cook, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Stokes, if the police investigation into the incident that saw him arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and his broken hand do not stop him playing in the series.

Yet look around the rest of the squad and you have a rag-tag bunch of previous Test failures, uncapped rookies and others with no experience of playing Test-match cricket in Australia.

The absence of a genuinely fast bowler in Mark Wood, not deemed fit enough to be picked, and the recall of two failed batsmen in James Vince and Gary Ballance underlines what a muddled selection this has been.

The England & Wales Cricket Board may have released an upbeat video on their website of Root exclaiming: "England have the squad to make Ashes history."

But most English fans right now are worrying it will be a case of history repeating and another 5-0 Australian whitewash to match the efforts of the 2006-07 and 2013-14 tours.

James Whitaker, England's national selector, says both Vince – a man with a Test average of 19.27 – and Ballance – a repeated failure since his last Test hundred back in 2014 – want to "set the record straight".

But picking players who have been proven time and again not to be up to the job is as jarring as a broken record.

Vince, whose seven Tests last summer were characterised by a series of brainless swishes outside off-stump that saw him invariably caught at first or second slip, apparently "has the type of attacking, back-foot game that will suit Australian conditions". That's code for saying maybe Vince, who has a domestic first-class average of 34 this year, is worth a gamble as we don't expect the ball to seam around on Aussie pitches.

Yet the cluelessness of the pick is evidenced by the erroneous reference to Vince's "back-foot game". This is a player who bats the majority of the time on the front foot, with almost all of his dismissals last summer the result of expansive front-foot drives.

If the head of selectors gets details such as that wrong how much confidence can you have in his judgment? Answer: very little.

Tom Westley, a man not without his own technical glitches, would have been the continuity pick despite his poor form at the end of his first English Test summer. The Essex batsman can have no complaints about being dropped but might wonder just how he was deemed less worthy of a place than Vince.

As for Ballance, where do we start? Since recovering from the fractured finger that saw his recall for the recent South Africa series cut short after two Tests, he has not scored more than 29 in five first-class innings for Yorkshire. His Test average for England since the start of 2015 is 27.

His technique, which sees him play way back in his crease, is susceptible to buckling under the pressure of Australia's quartet of quick bowlers too.

Yet perhaps not taking heed of Albert Einstein's definition that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, Whitaker believes Ballance's fifth recall as a Test player – yes fifth – will work out differently this time.

"We all know Gary's record, which is brilliant at domestic cricket and at the start of his international career," he said.

"Obviously, he's keen to put the recent record right. We think he's got the toughness and character and back-foot game that will also thrive in Australia."

Added into the mix with Ballance is the fact that like Aussie Chris Rogers he is also colour-blind – not ideal with a pink-ball Test coming up at Adelaide.

"Yes, he's had some tests. He's quite confident," said Whitaker.

"Of course, until it's fully tested, you never quite know. But there's no reason to go against selecting him, on that basis."

The good news for Australia is that if Ballance does not play, Dawid Malan, a batsman with an underwhelming Test average of 23.62 and who struggled to bat with any fluency so far at that level, will.

At least there is some hope Wood might be involved at some stage during the Ashes, with Whitaker confirming the Durham bowler will be involved with England Lions in Australia with a view to joining the main squad at a later date.

"Mark is absolutely gutted," he said. "But he will hopefully build up some stamina with the Lions group which will shadow the first team and be available some time later. We know his point of difference as a bowler. It is unfortunate."

The three uncapped players in England's squad are at least sound picks, with Somerset fast bowler Craig Overton a live chance of featuring in a couple of Tests and reserve wicketkeeper Ben Foakes and Mason Crane fully deserving of their chances.

Foakes could even be playing by the end of the Ashes if England decide the batting needs reinforcing by moving current keeper Jonny Bairstow up the order to help out Cook, Root and Stokes.

The composition of this squad makes that a real possibility.

2017-18 International Fixtures:

Magellan Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21