By Rob McHugh
It feels like it is all over before it even started. This topsy-turvy Ashes series has been the shortest ever Ashes series, and was completed in just 18 days of cricket. At times the series more closely resembled two drunks attempting to run the 110 metres hurdles than a thoroughbred horserace, but England did enough to secure a decisive lead in the 4th test at Trent Bridge.
As ever in the relentless world of professional sport, England’s thoughts must now turn to the upcoming One Day international series, before heading to the UAE to face Pakistan, and later in the winter, travel to South Africa to face the number one team in the world. Despite this uplifting victory, there are a number of questions for captain Alistair Cook, coach Trevor Bayliss and the England selectors to ponder.
Despite speculation earlier this summer that Cook would step down as captain following this series, he appears set to stay in the role and continue to open the batting. The identity of his opening partner is much less certain. Despite a marvellous maiden century at his home ground of Headingley against a strong New Zealand attack, Adam Lyth has not done enough to justify selection in the England team this winter thanks to a run of low scores throughout the Ashes series. It has been mooted that Moeen Ali could move up to open in the UAE in more spin friendly conditions, but this feels like kicking the can further down the road rather than finding a solution to the problem. Having scored heavily in the County Championship recently, there is a strong case to finally give Alex Hales a run in the test team. These seem the two most viable immediate options for England, as there are very few openers on the county circuit demanding selection.
The Middle Order:
Will Ian Bell retire? This is the big question for England following the Ashes. He gave a rather cryptic interview after the final test at the Oval, referencing the fatigue and demands that Test cricket puts on an individual, and stated the need to assess his options after a break. Were Ian Bell to retire, England would lose one of their most important players in recent years, and it could cause them to rethink their batting line up. Do they bring Gary Balance straight back into the 3 spot, given he has rediscovered some form for Yorkshire recently. Do they promote Root to 3, despite his limited success there in his previous attempts? James Taylor could be the next in line for a go in the middle order if Bell were to retire, although he has had a modest summer despite a double century a few weeks ago. Jonny Bairstow deserves an extended run in the side after his heavy scoring summer.
The Wicket Keeper:
There should be no change here, but if Jos Buttler is unable to arrest a worrying run of bad form with the bat, his place may come under scrutiny. His final innings at the Oval provided a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel as he appeared to rediscover some form and rhythm. England have a ready-made replacement in the side already in Bairstow so the pressure will remain very much on Buttler to perform.
Moeen Ali is one of the most graceful batsmen England has produced for several years, but at this moment in time he is no front line spinner. Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid is also a fine batsman, and is a mercurial spinner, but there appear to be doubts about the pace of his bowling and his control. His inclusion in every England squad since the trip to the West Indies suggests he is very much in the thoughts of the selectors, and his best chance may come if England choose to open with Moeen Ali.
So there we have it; there is a lot to ponder for the selectors, coaching staff and captain as they come around from their celebratory libations from the weekend. If England have ambitions to overhaul South Africa as the number one test playing nation in the world, they will have to find solutions to all of the above.