England knew Australia would be lifting the urn after they took an unassailable lead 2-1 lead after the fourth Test at Old Trafford, but the response at the end of a long and historic summer of international cricket was a stylish one.
Four wickets apiece from Stuart Broad and Jack Leach, plus two for the captain's part-time off-spin, rolled the tourists over for 263 and sealed a 135-run win that sealed a well-earned 2-2 draw.
The performance has raised English hopes of reclaiming the urn when the two sides meet Down Under for the 2021/22 series — although there are likely to be a raft of changes.
With that in mind, we asked Jonathan Liew to select an England Test squad capable of taking the fight to Australia.
Here is the team he selected.
Rory Burns (age at 2021-22 Ashes: 31)
Should, if everything goes well, be one of the pillars of the England batting by the time of the next Ashes. Even in these early days, has shown a resilient temperament, a good knack for problem-solving and an excellent pair of hands in the gully. A good winter and he could be a fixture in the side for the next five or six years at least.
Zak Crawley (age: 23)
The best young opener in the county game: a friend and team-mate of Joe Denly at Kent, who may well end up taking his place. Standing 6ft 6in tall, Crawley has the sort of simple, uncomplicated technique that often translates well to international cricket. Experience of Australian conditions from playing grade cricket in Sydney over the winter, where he scored a 42-ball century. Largely untested against high-quality fast bowling, but then, who isn’t?
Hasan Azad (age: 27)
When England won Down Under in 1970-71, it was by picking three openers at the top of the order. In 2010-11, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook were followed by Jonathan Trott. Point being: this is no place for a dasher (we see you, James Vince). Azad, the Leicestershire opener, has been a revelation this summer, averaging 58 by simply stifling attacks into oblivion. Born in Pakistan and a late developer in the county game, he plays the ball late and leaves the ball exceptionally. Lots to prove, but plenty to work with.
Dom Sibley of Warwickshire a possible alternative.
Joe Root (age: 30)
Maybe, just maybe, Root will have recovered the form that briefly him saw him talked about as a potential England great. Even in his current slump, he remains England’s only genuine world-class batsman. Whether it’s a more hands-on coach, relieving him of the captaincy or returning him to his favoured No4 spot, England need to spend the next few years working out exactly how to get him firing again.
Ben Stokes (age: 30)
By the time the next Ashes rolls around, it will have been eight years since Stokes last played a Test in Australia. In order to keep him fresh England will need to manage his workload and off-field commitments ruthlessly. No more knee-shattering nine-over spells. No meaningless 50-over series. For a man who’s almost done it all, this could be the tour that defines him.
Ollie Pope (age: 23)
Ridiculously gifted, and since his first crack at Test cricket last summer has learned the art of graft: scratching out a score in tough conditions, converting promising knocks into big ones: two doubles in just six first-class innings this season. The temptation will be to shove him at No4 below Root: instead, let him loose at No6, where he can simply play the situation.
Watch out, too, for Somerset’s young crackerjack Tom Banton, who has been dropping jaws in white-ball cricket but still needs a little finesse with the red ball.
Ben Foakes (age: 28)
Unfairly discarded from the team during the tour of the West Indies, and in time should prove his worth ahead of the underperforming Jonny Bairstow and the patchy Jos Buttler. Foakes has a tighter batting technique than both, and is of course a wonderful keeper, which will be crucial in a country where chances can be both extremely rare and extremely sharp. Deserves another chance soon.
Jofra Archer (age: 26)
Tempting as it is to wrap him in cotton wool for the next two years and wheel him out at the Gabba in 2021, the reality is that England will need to manage their most valuable asset with surgical precision. As with Stokes, he should be rested from most 50-over cricket, and probably a few Tests as well. Meanwhile, Root (or whoever replaces him as captain) needs to use him wisely on the field: not necessarily in short bursts, but with adequate rest periods and an awareness that even this most explosive of bowlers occasionally needs time to set a batsman up and find his rhythm.
Olly Stone (age: 28)
Will be a young 28 by the time of the next Ashes, having played only sparsely due to injury. Currently nursing his latest complaint, a back strain that put him out of contention for this summer’s Ashes, but has shown enough in white-ball cricket and the one-off Test against Ireland to serve notice of his genuine pace and aggression. Needs to become more physically robust if he’s to get through a five-Test series Down Under, but the example of Pat Cummins should be an inspiration.
Jack Leach (age: 30)
Again, plenty to learn, but the makings of a genuinely class Test spinner there. Not a huge turner of the ball, but achieves good flight and dip and most importantly, can bowl to a plan. Benefits from a distinct lack of young spinners pushing their case: Amar Virdi of Surrey and Matt Parkinson of Lancashire both have plenty of promise, but still don’t bowl enough four-day overs to make an informed judgment.
James Anderson (age: 39) or Stuart Broad (age: 35)
Chris Woakes has had enough chances abroad. Craig Overton has had too many chances, full stop. Neither Curran inspires much hope of bowling out Australia in Australia (although Sam could ultimately prove a decent understudy to Stokes. And so, here we are again: the two oldest swingers in town, back for one last tilt at immortality.
Neither Anderson nor Broad are exactly going to be getting it up in the batsman’s grille by the time the next Ashes rolls along, and even if they both make it to 2021-22 fit and eager (itself no foregone conclusion), it would be folly to play them both. But answer us this: if you’re a captain and had to pick an England bowler to put six balls exactly where you want them, would you honestly look beyond these two? Cricket’s a deceptively simple game. And as long as these two unquestionable greats of English cricket want to keep playing, they’ll make sure they’re good enough.
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