Friday, 9 January 2009

England's Ashes ladder

With the 2009 Ashes only six months away, who can expect to play a part for England? Each player has been ranked according to who is most likely to play in the series, from most likely to 25th.

1) Andrew Strauss
The new skipper has returned to form and England will be after some stability at last.

2) Andrew Flintoff
The obvious caveat is injury. But he has responded leaner and fitter since his comeback. His bowling, at least, is as good as ever.

3) Alastair Cook
Indicative of the malaise in the England side, even number three is not quite a certainty. But he did well against the West Indies before and, having invested so much time, England are very unlikely to dump him prior to the Ashes.

4) Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen, surely, would not miss this for the world. But if he plays the IPL instead of the West Indies home series, he might just have to.

5) Matt Prior
May appear a little high for someone whose current Test stint has lasted just two games, but Prior is a fine batsman, vital with England seemingly favouring the five-man attack that served them so well in 2005. Whether they are right to remains another matter.

6) Stuart Broad
A man averaging 45 with the ball in Tests should not be this high. But, with doubts over so many bowlers, his excellent batting makes his selection very likely for the balance of the side.

7) Paul Collingwood
Forever fighting for his place, but Collingwood has hit two hundreds in his last four Tests. His grit is such that England would like him to play, but worrys over his troubesome shoulder - and batting technique - linger.

8) Steve Harmison
Conditional upon him reproducing something like his Durham form in the West Indies. But on his day Harmie the attributes to strike fear into batsmen. Despite his disastrous last Ashes, Australis would probably sooner face James Anderson.

9) Graeme Swann
Monty Panesar's decline is becoming increasingly worrying. The feisty Swann will not be intimidated by the Aussies, should enjoy bowling to their left-handers (who will form at least three of their top six) and will certainly outdo Panesar in his batting and fielding contributions.

10) Ian Bell
Like it or not, Bell has an excellent chance of playing next summer. For all his undeniable class, averages of 25 against Australia - and 19 in his last ten Test innings - suggest England would be better looking elsewhere.

11) James Anderson
It isn't always exactly clear why, but Anderson has played the last 11 Tests. Where swing is expected to play a part then, barring a huge loss of form, he will probably feature.

12) Owais Shah
The perennial drinks-carrier has established himself as England's second best ODI batsman (after Pietersen) but has played just one Test in the three years following his 88 on debut in Mumbai. Not lacking in self-belief and in the form of his life, England must now hand him a run in the side. May, however, live to rue the ODIs coming after, rather than before, the Tests.

13) Monty Panesar
Will be close to selection, if he is not actually in the final XI. If only he could regain his joie de vivre and appear more comfortable thinking on his feet.

14) Simon Jones
Why does a man who has not played for England in almost four years feature so highly? Frankly, it's hard to see which other quicks possess more of a threat. Took 42 wickets at 18 last summer and should have played the Second Test against South Africa, Jones need only have a few good first-class games before the calls from for his inclusion. The king of reverse-swing will not play all five Tests, but, fitness - as ever - permitting, has a very good chance of playing a couple of games. Temptation to pick him will be mighty strong.

15) Ryan Sidebottom
It seems incredible to think now, but in 2008 Sidebottom claimed 47 Test wickets (mainly Kiwi) at just 20 apiece. Has since been ravaged by injuries, however, and has not featured since limping through the Edgbaston Test. But will do everything in his power to come back.

16) Michael Vaughan
Not recalled for the West Indies tour but if he can finally get some runs for Yorkshire he will become, at least, first reserve in the event of a top-three injury or critical loss of form. One last crack at the Aussies and into the sunset?

17) Adil Rashid
As long as he continues his impressive progress, he has a good chance of making an appearance, especially at The Oval and especially if England are struggling.

18) Amjad Khan
A late call-up for the India tour, Khan can generate reverse-swing and has a fine first-class pedigree. Could be finding favour at just the right time.

19) Tim Ambrose
Still the second choice Test keeper, apparently, though no one is quite sure why. But few would fancy his chances of scoring runs next summer. James Foster, in particular, would feel aggrieved if Ambrose is preferred.

20) Ravi Bopara
So far the hype has nowhere near lived up to the international performances. But he remains a talented player and his ODI appearances should keep him in the frame.

21) Robert Key
Passed over for the England captaincy, Key had a bad season for Kent last year at the worst possible time. But he is nonetheless a fine player - England could do much worse.

22) Kabir Ali
Has been in superb form for several seasons - but didn't even make the Lions squad. A far better bowler than when he last played for England - but just doesn't seem to tick the selectorial boxes. Perhaps the new regime will see differently.

23) Matthew Hoggard
It's not going to happen - and an average of 39.72 in his last 13 Tests says why. But a Test at Headingley will keep him hoping.

24) Chris Tremlett
Has seemingly vanished completely from view, and worries about his fitness and temperament have put his impressive series against India three summers ago to the back of everyone's mind.

25) Mark Ramprakash
'Failed' in only averaging 60 last season; a two-match disciplinary suspension hardly helps his case either. But with England's chronic problems at number three his would be an intriguing selection. The romantics should not be hopeful, however.

Bubbling under
Batsmen: Joe Denly, Samit Patel, Eoin Morgan
Keepers: James Foster, Steven Davies
Bowlers: Mark Davies, Sajid Mahmood, Darren Pattinson, Liam Plunkett

Compiling this list, it is striking how few players truly inspire confidence. The fast bowling area is particularly problematic. And I should add that I have been trying to read the selectors' minds - this is what I think their list would look like, not what my list would be.


Philip Oliver said...

An interesting and revealing approach to the selection issue Tim - as you say, there are some names high on the list which are far from guaranteed selection. An Aussie equivalent would show six absolute definites: Ponting, Johnson, Clarke, Hussey, Haddin, and Katich. Transition or not, they are more settled. Only injury prevents Lee and Clark from joing the list.
I agree with your ladder, although I reckon Sidebottom is a little higher - his injury prognosis is rumoured to be better than Jones' and is still the first seamer on the teamsheet after Flintoff when fit.

Richard Lake said...

I'd have Sidebottom higher than Jones and I also think you've got the wrong Yorkshire bowler on the list. Tim Bresnan is more likely to be considered than Hoggard.

Also, to take Philip's point, the fact they're settled could be indicative of a lack of competition for places. Haddin in particular is the best of a pretty poor bunch. I really hope I don't regret saying that in the summer.

It'll be interesting to see how the list progresses through the WI tour.

Tim said...

Thanks for the comments - I agree Jones may have been a little high, but I really believe England will do all they can to have him playing at least one Ashes Test.

Sidebottom did nothing wrong, I know, but he does need to prove his fitness. I know the same true of Jones (but Jones has done it against better sides than Sidebottom has). Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing them both fit and in the XI ahead of Anderson.

And I plan to do an update after the Windies tour.

Mark said...

If Australia lose badly in South Africa will Ponting stay as captain?

And if he doesn't and Hussey (presumably) take over, will Ponting be prepared to tour under him?

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