April 7th marks the halfway point between the end of the 2009 Ashes series and the start of the 2010/11 one. Tim Wigmore assesses and rates the 25 Englishmen most likely to feature down under.
1) Andrew Strauss (170 runs @ 24.28 post-Ashes ‘09)
Endured a miserable series in South Africa, save for a brilliant 54 to seize the momentum in the second Test. But, after his controversial break, England will be reassured to have him back where he belongs at the top of the order. Especially if his coin-tossing form is undiminished.
2) Graeme Swann (209 runs @ 26.12; 37 wickets @ 28.72)
Swann’s ebullience with bat and ball earned him Man of the Series awards on both winter tours – all signs indicate he has actually improved since claiming Mike Hussey with the last delivery of the 2009 Ashes, with his first innings showings in South Africa particularly impressive. Australia will be well aware of Swann’s importance: currently, he is single-handedly vindicating England’s four-bowler strategy.
3) Kevin Pietersen (427 runs @ 42.70)
After a miserable return post-injury, Pietersen returned to form impressively in Bangladesh. Intriguingly, he batted at number three for the first time in the second Test. And there is a very powerful argument indeed that that is where he should remain.
4) Paul Collingwood (492 runs @ 54.66)
It now seems incredible, but Collingwood’s place was under some threat after averaging just 27 in the Ashes. He was exceptional in South Africa, making day five match-saving into a fine art. As his recent brilliant ODI form has showcased, Collingwood has expanded his game, and, at almost 34, transformed himself into a regular six-hitter. But it would be nice to know what has happened to his bowling in Tests, which will be needed if England continue playing four bowlers.
5) Jimmy Anderson (16 wickets @ 34.25)
His series in South Africa may have been typical Anderson – one very good Test and three distinctly underwhelming ones. He remains both England’s best fast bowler and one who is worryingly short of potency when swing is absent. A rest will have done him much good: the next Ashes series could define his career.
6) Alastair Cook (629 runs @ 62.90)
After a double failure in the first Test in South Africa, the vultures were circling, irked by the ease with which he was being handed the captaincy. But his 118 in England’s victory in the second Test was perhaps his best century yet. After an impressive enough start to captaincy in Bangladesh, marked by two centuries, he is looking more secure than for some time. England value his tenacity at the top, and he will get an opportunity to work on that Ashes average of 26.
7) Ian Bell (574 runs @ 63.77)
No one gained more this winter. Bell’s 140 in Durban felt like the start of a new dawn, after frustrating for 50 Tests. And his courageous and technically faultless 78 to salvage a draw in Cape Town seemed to confirm as much. A century in Bangladesh, when his form looked incandescent, even erased the oft-quoted statistic that Bell had never been the sole century maker in an England innings. Cue inevitable jibes about the quality of opposition. He can erase those, once and for all, if he takes his winter form down under.
8) Stuart Broad (79 runs @ 9.87; 19 wickets @ 37.42)
It was looking so good during a brilliant spell at Durban, when Broad relocated the full-length and late movement that had won England the Ashes. Thereafter, it was a tale of tantrums with the ball and a first international slump with the bat. England, and the man himself, still don’t seem quite sure what his role should be. Which, after 28 Tests, is something of an indictment. Some more first-class cricket wouldn’t hurt, but there is no time for him to play it.
9) Matt Prior (227 runs @ 25.22)
Though the quality of his keeping continued to improve, Prior had a winter to forget, culminating in being dropped from the World Twenty20 squad. Only twice did he pass 14 in seven innings in South Africa – although they were both very good knocks. Irony of ironies, Prior is now the keeper’s man, with Kieswetter’s batting threatening to do to Prior what Prior did to Read.
10) Jonathan Trott (326 runs @ 29.63)
A fine display in the first Test of the winter exuded comparisons with Graham Thorpe. By winter’s end, Trott had not bettered his stubborn 69 at Centurion. A resolute display as stand-in opener in Bangladesh raised nearly as many questions as answers – he took 271 minutes over 64, suggesting he can be becalmed all too easily. He will cling on for now, though his brilliant Ashes debut is a fading memory, but he will be for the chop if England think they can manage ok with only five batsmen. Trott’s madcap display in the fourth Test in South Africa was emphatically not that of a Test match number three. Tellingly, Bell bats there for Warwickshire, with Trott in the middle order.
11) Graeme Onions (8 wickets @ 45.75)
Onions will have been particularly disappointed to miss the tour to Bangladesh, having had more to gain than most from it. His near-heroic batting at Centurion and Cape Town was the most memorable aspect of England’s winter. Onions bowled well, but with unflattering figures, until being controversially omitted for Sidebottom for the fourth Test, and deserves to return when he is fit. Some variations would increase his potency on Australian wickets.
12) Tim Bresnan (91 runs @ 91.00; 7 wickets @ 32.28)
Bresnan’s performances in Bangladesh, after being catapulted into the squad following a wave of injuries, led Andy Flower to describe him as the “stand-out seamer”. The ball to dismiss Tamim Iqbal would have dismissed any of the three left-handers in Australia’s top six, while his 91 justified his position at seven, too. The consummate squad man, could Bresnan be England’s Andy Bichel?
13) Steven Finn (4 wickets @ 44.25)
Like Bresnan, Finn forced his way into the side ahead of those in the original touring party. Though obviously raw, he looked a Test match natural. On the bouncier wickets of Australia, Finn’s 6ft 7 frame could cause real damage. It is imperative workload and expectations are managed sagaciously, as has conspicuously not been the case with Adil Rashid.
14) Craig Kieswetter
His rise since qualification has evoked Kevin Pietersen’s, as a mature century in his third ODI propelled him into the Twenty20 squad. The surprise was that Prior was dropped altogether. If Kieswetter scores runs for England in the one-day game – and, as importantly, can improve his wicket-keeping – then Prior will be getting very jittery indeed over his Test place as well. Either way, Kieswetter has surely made himself England’s Test match number two in the keeping department. And one day, perhaps soon, he will be their number one.
15) Michael Carberry (64 runs @ 32.00)
A Test debut was fitting reward for a man who could easily have drifted out of the game but fought back. It was solid, but two middling scores – 30 and 34 – are criminal for an opener in Bangladesh, and Carberry will need a combination of luck and another fine domestic season to prevent it being his only Test.
16) Monty Panesar
Panesar’s winter was spent playing for the Highveld Lions in South Africa. His wickets came at a shade under 40, which is less than spectacular, but the experience of being the overseas player in an unfamiliar environment will serve him well. He needs to impress for his new county Sussex to come close to an England recall as second spinner.
17) James Tredwell (37 runs @ 37.00; 6 wickets @ 30.16)
Tredwell should be very content with his all-round contribution in Bangladesh, which included a phenomenal catch as a substitute in the first Test. But, nonetheless, the feeling persists that he would be unlikely to trouble Australia. Even at Sydney, would England really play two off-spinners? Tredwell’s only chance of Ashes action is the unthinkable – an injury to Graeme Swann.
18) Eoin Morgan
Morgan could hardly have enjoyed a better winter, playing a series of breathtaking innings that have fused calculation with inventive brilliance, culminating with single-handedly winning the second ODI in Bangladesh. But his record for Middlesex in the second division last season was abysmal – averaging just 24 – as he proved susceptible to being caught behind the wicket. Yet some players – think of Vaughan and Trescothick – have the talent and temperament to thrive in Tests despite struggling in the County Championship. If Morgan keeps producing sublime innings for England, the selectors will want to find out if he is one of them.
19) Steve Harmison
Yes, yes. We have been here too many times before. And it’s true that Harmison has a dire record in Australia, averaging 51 in 10 Tests. But his pace and bounce, if all functioning, provide a problem Australia wouldn’t like to see. He refrained from retiring from international cricket after the Ashes win, and could yet get his revenge for that ball.
20) Ravi Bopara
To his immense credit, Bopara responded to his miserable Ashes summer by playing for Auckland in New Zealand. His first-class returns were hardly spectacular – 294 runs at just 32.66 – but impressive form in the IPL earned him a recall to the England set-up for the World Twenty20. Mitchell Johnson et al would surely relish the prospect of bowling to him down under, though, and Bopara would need to provide real evidence he has improved to merit even a squad place.
21) Luke Wright
Selected for both Test squads, England clearly do not trust him, and by the end of the Bangladesh tour, most people had forgotten Wright was even in the squad. England would love a Test-class number seven, but few are convinced Wright is.
22) Adil Rashid
After a winter that witnessed four international overs at an expense of 52 runs, there have already been premature fears Rashid could become another Chris Schofield. For a player of his talent that is very unlikely, but there have justifiably been trenchant criticisms of the England management’s treatment of Rashid, with Micky Arthur calling it “criminal”. Still, how England would love him and Swann to bowl England to Ashes triumph at Sydney.
23) Ajmal Shazhad
A ‘wildcard’ inclusion for the tour to Bangladesh, Shazhad took two wickets in his first international over, against Pakistan in Dubai, but faded thereafter. With just 53 first-class wickets to his name, Shazhad is emphatically ‘raw’, but his ability to reverse swing at pace and to score quick runs means he should not be discounted completely.
24) Ryan Sidebottom (2 wickets @ 49.00)
Surprisingly selected for the last Test in South Africa, Sidebottom in fact bowled pretty well. But then those perennial injury nightmares struck yet again, leaving his glorious 12 months as attack leader in 07/08 looking further away than ever. Still, he was selected for England’s World Twenty20 squad, though faith he can last five days every again must be thin.
25) Robert Key
England’s nearly man will probably never add to his 15 Test caps. But an average of 50 in Kent’s promotion in 2009 ensured Key remains on the periphery. Rumoured discontents when he was in the World Twenty20 squad in 2009 will not have helped his cause, though.