Plenty to ponder for England selectors

England coach Trevor Bayliss doesn't expect big changes to his personnel for the Ashes despite question marks over several positions

Now England’s Test summer has concluded, the big question facing coach Trevor Bayliss and the other selectors is who to pick for the upcoming Magellan Ashes in Australia.

Despite back-to-back home series wins against South Africa and West Indies, England have much to ponder, especially over the composition of their top order.

What appears likely, though, is that there will not be big changes ahead of the Ashes.

Bayliss indicated as much following his team’s series-clinching win against West Indies at Lord’s last weekend.

That’s good news for opener Mark Stoneman, No.3 Tom Westley and No.5 Dawid Malan.

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Indeed, although alternatives such as Haseeb Hameed, Alex Hales, Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance will all be discussed, it is likely only one of that trio will be on the plane to Australia, with the versatility of Hales, who could open or bat in the middle order, making him the favourite at this stage.

Stoneman appears a lock to retain his opening position alongside former captain Alastair Cook, even if he is averaging just 30 in the three Tests he has played so far.

Westley and Malan are both averaging in the low 20s from the five Tests they have played.

Yet the option of going for someone completely untested appears to be a risk the selectors are not willing to take, especially with a lack of viable alternatives.

"That's the big question - whether the three guys we have been speaking about all summer have done enough," admitted Bayliss. 

"I am sure they would have loved as much as we would for them to come out and make a couple of hundreds and then there’s nothing to talk about. 

"They have shown that they are good enough, but are they good enough for long enough, are they tough enough especially for an Ashes series?  

"We will be discussing other players that we have had in the team over the last 12 to 18 months. They will get a hearing but these three guys - it will be hard to go past them."

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One option England will consider is moving captain Joe Root back up to No.3 for the Ashes to shore up the top order, with Westley likely to switch places and move down to four.

That’s the position Root has occupied this northern summer having asked to move down from three when he took on the captaincy earlier this year.

Despite the fact the Yorkshireman has enjoyed a fine start to the captaincy, winning both series and averaging 60 with the bat, it would make sense for him to move back to No.3 for the good of the team – a viewpoint Bayliss shares.

"I would always have him at three," the Australian said of Root. "It depends just as much who the No.3 coming in is. Is he a No.3 or is he a No.4?  I know that’s putting the cart before the horse a bit but my view is that Joe is comfortable batting at four. 

"He has asked the question over the last few Tests and I think he will end up at three at some stage in the future because he is by far our best player and personally I believe that is where your best player should be."

England then are likely to line up with a top five for the Ashes of Cook, Stoneman, Root, Westley and either Malan or Hales.

In picking the No.5 position, Hales might have the edge despite Malan scoring a couple of half-centuries against West Indies. 

Hales has had a good County Championship season for Nottinghamshire, averaging 47.11 since moving down the order and reinventing himself as a middle order batsman.

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Having played 11 Tests as an opener up until the end of the 2016 northern summer, the 28-year-old is not a newcomer to international cricket and his success as a one-day opener suggests he has the temperament to cope with an Ashes series.

England are well served with two genuine allrounders in Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes. Both will be crucial to England’s Ashes chances.

The same can be said of wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who apart from Root has also been the team’s most consistent batsmen over the past 18 months.

England will need a reserve 'keeper for the Ashes. That is likely to be Surrey’s Ben Foakes, an accomplished gloveman who is averaging 41 in first-class cricket this northern summer, rather than Jos Buttler, who now appears to be a limited-overs specialist.

James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the pair with almost 900 Test wickets between them, are certain starters in any England Ashes XI.

Chris Woakes and Toby Roland-Jones, who is averaging 19.64 from his first four Tests, are also certain of their Ashes places.

That leaves two bowling spots to fill in the 16-man squad, with Mason Crane, the Hampshire leg-spinner who played a Shield game for New South Wales at the end of the 2016-17 Australian summer, and Mark Wood, if fit, the likely candidates.

Probable England Ashes squad: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, Joe Root (captain), Tom Westley, Dawid Malan, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Foakes (both keepers), Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes, Toby Roland-Jones, Mark Wood, Mason Crane.

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