England’s crippling ‘Bazball’ crisis; Aussies’ awkward selection dilemma: Ashes State of Play

England’s crippling ‘Bazball’ crisis; Aussies’ awkward selection dilemma: Ashes State of Play

Ashes campaigns are always accompanied by speculation and wild predictions, but there’s an added element of intrigue ahead of the 2023 series.

England, transformed and rejuvenated since Brendon McCullum took charge of the Test side, is brimming with confidence after a dominant home summer and entertaining tours of Pakistan and New Zealand.

‘Bazball’ has been a revelation, but how will England’s attacking strategy fare against the experienced and disciplined Australians, who have dominated the Test arena over the past 18 months?

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Australia’s Test squad will slowly trickle into the United Kingdom over the coming days, with the 17 players descending from three different continents.

The bulk of Australia’s Test players fly over to England on Friday, having recently completed a three-day training camp in Brisbane, while Marnus Labuschagne’s journey is less arduous — a three-hour drive across the River Severn following his successful stint with Glamorgan in the County Championship.

David Warner and Mitchell Marsh have already wrapped up their commitments with the Delhi Capitals after a disappointing Indian Premier League campaign, but Cameron Green and the Mumbai Indians are still fighting for the title.

Australia’s Ashes preparation ramps up next week with a high-intensity training camp in Beckenham before the World Test Championship final against India, which gets underway at The Oval on June 7. The Test mace remains the only piece of silverware the national men’s side has never won.

Meanwhile, England will face Ireland at Lord’s for a four-day Test from June 1, but the host nation is still sweating on the fitness of several high-profile names.

Earlier this year, England captain Ben Stokes declared he wanted an eight-man pace squad available for this winter’s Ashes campaign, but the host nation might be low on resources when the first Test gets underway on June 16.

Warner at ‘mercy of selection’ for Ashes | 00:44

AUSSIES IN THE IPL

David Warner is under mounting pressure to keep his spot in the Test side, with national selector George Bailey refusing to guarantee he would play the Ashes opener at Edgbaston.

The veteran opener will have a chance to silence his doubters at the World Test Championship final against India, which doubles as an Ashes audition for the talented 36-year-old.

Warner initially struggled to find any rhythm during his recent IPL campaign for the Delhi Capitals but finished on a high with blistering knocks of 54 (27), 46 (31) and 87 (52).

The New South Welshman was the tournament’s sixth-leading run-scorer in the group stage with 516 runs at 36.85, but his strike rate of 131.63 was among the lowest of the competition.

Delhi didn’t qualify for the IPL finals, but the silver lining is that Warner gets to enjoy a few days at home with his family before jetting to the United Kingdom.

Capitals teammate Mitchell Marsh had a forgettable IPL campaign with the bat, finishing with 128 runs at 14.22 and passing fifty once in nine knocks. However, the West Australian proved more damaging with the ball in the subcontinent, taking 12 scalps to become Delhi’s leading wicket-taker of the tournament.

Marsh, who recently underwent keyhole surgery on his ankle, will be Australia’s reserve all-rounder for the Ashes, serving as injury cover for West Australian teammate Cameron Green.

The 23-year-old has validated his $3.15 million IPL contract, plundering 381 runs at 54.42 with a strike rate of 159.41 in his maiden campaign with the Mumbai Indians.

Green ensured the powerhouse franchise booked its spot in the IPL finals by smacking his maiden T20 century against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday, an unbeaten 100 (47) at Wankhede Stadium.

The right-hander, who has an unfortunate track record with injury, has been in India for nearly four months, and there are lingering concerns about his workload ahead of the six-Test England tour. If Mumbai qualifies for the IPL season finale, Green will touch down in the United Kingdom eight days before the World Test Championship final in London.

Green blasts first IPL century from 47! | 01:42

Meanwhile, Australian paceman Josh Hazlewood, who hasn’t played red-ball cricket since January, has returned to high-intensity bowling after flying home from the IPL early with “minor side soreness”.

The 32-year-old has been plagued by injury over the last 18 months, playing just three Tests since the start of the 2021/22 Ashes series. He missed the entire Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the first half of the IPL with an Achilles injury, making three appearances for the Royal Challengers Bangalore before his latest setback.

However, Cricket Australia confirmed Hazlewood was still considered “fit and available” for the World Test Championship final after scans showed no damage.

“After a brief and precautionary rest period, Hazlewood returned to high-intensity bowling last week and will continue to increase his bowling workloads in preparation for the WTC and Ashes series,” the CA statement read.

Josh Hazlewood of Australia. Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

AUSSIES IN COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP

Despite conjecture about Australia’s decision not to schedule any warm-up matches ahead of the Ashes, three members of the Test squad have been acclimatising to English conditions in the County Championship.

Marnus Labuschagne, the world’s No. 1 Test batter, has been in superb form for Glamorgan this season, registering 502 runs at 71.71 in five matches for the Welsh county, including two centuries and two fifties.

The Queenslander is currently the third-leading run-scorer in the County Championship’s second division, most recently hitting 138 (244) against Sussex in Hove.

Marcus Harris has also been turning heads at Gloucestershire in the County Championship, kicking off his campaign with a match-saving 148 (192) against Glamorgan in Cardiff.

The Victorian, who has not represented Australia since January last year, went through a rough patch after he was named in the Test squad last month, registering scores of 1, 26, 37, 5 and 7.

However, Harris bounced back in Bristol last week, scoring an unbeaten 122 against Durham to become the first Gloucestershire batter in six years ago to carry his bat through a first-class innings. It remains to be seen whether he’s done enough to squeeze Warner out of the Test side.

Steve Smith only got three chances with the bat during his brief tenure at Sussex in the County Championship, finishing with 122 runs at 40.66.

The Australian vice-captain was trapped LBW in three consecutive knocks, but two of the decisions were dubious, to say the least. He ended his Sussex cameo with a gritty 89 against Glamorgan in Hove, snaring a couple of wickets with his part-time off-spin.

“Steve has been outstanding,” Sussex coach Paul Farbrace said this week.

“Our players have had the opportunity to work with one of the best players to have played the game. The learnings that they’ve had from him in terms of how he prepares, practices, how he thinks about the game, how he talks about the game … he is a proper normal down to earth bloke who just loves playing the game of cricket.

“We’ve just said to him now whenever he wants to come back, he’ll be most welcome.”

Pure filth as Marnus sends Poms warning | 02:21

Despite missing Ashes selection, Australian all-rounders Michael Neser and Sean Abbott will join the Test squad’s training camp before the World Test Championship final.

Neser and Abbott, on standby for the Ashes if required, have impressed with bat and ball in the County Championship this season, with the former continuing to press his case for an eleventh-hour selection.

The Queenslander, recently awarded Sheffield Shield Player of the Season, has scored 311 runs at 51.83 and taken 19 wickets at 25.63 for Glamorgan, cementing his status as a verified all-rounder.

Neser scored his maiden County Championship century over the weekend, slapping 123 (198) against Sussex in Hove before becoming Smith’s second victim of the match. It comes after the 33-year-old claimed career-best figures of 7-32, including a hat-trick, against Yorkshire in Leeds earlier this month.

“He‘s contributed really well with the bat this year for us on top of his outstanding bowling efforts,” Glamorgan coach Matthew Maynard said of Neser on Monday.

“To top it off with a hundred, I’m delighted for him.”

Australia effectively rotated their pace bowlers throughout the 2019 Ashes, which is why the selection of only four premier quicks for this year’s England tour raised eyebrows. But considering Hazlewood’s vulnerability and the crammed schedule, it’s almost inevitable that Neser will be called upon when Australia rejig its squad after the Lord’s Test.

Meanwhile, Abbott has registered two fifties for Surrey in Division One, averaging 52.80 with the bat after five County Championship matches. The New South Welshman, who has also taken 16 wickets at 27.81 for Surrey this season, is still waiting for a coveted Baggy Green.

“That’s the dream, to get the Baggy Green,” Abbott told cricket.com.au last week.

“I’m not delusional at all about the talent and calibre of the players in the squad, the guys waiting as well.”

Neser nails hat-trick against Yorkshire | 00:26

AUSSIES BACK HOME

Scott Boland will play a crucial role for Australia in the Ashes and could feature in at least two Tests if the visitors rotate their pace bowlers as expected.

Last week, the 34-year-old revealed he turned down the opportunity to play County Championship cricket this year, prioritising freshness ahead of the six-Test England tour.

“I know my body, that if I’m at a stage where I’m getting tired, I want to keep my career going for as long as I can,” Boland told cricket.com.au.

“I don’t want to burn out.

“It will be tough for fast bowlers to play all six games.

“I’m definitely preparing to play. It could be at the start, it could be halfway through, I’m not sure.

“But I’m planning to play and excited to play whenever they choose me.”

Matthew Renshaw is preparing to embark on his first Ashes tour, parachuted into the squad after smashing two centuries during the recent Australia A tour of New Zealand.

The Queenslander, capable of batting anywhere in the top six, flopped during the recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, but national selectors have backed him as the squad’s reserve batter.

Renshaw didn’t play County Championship cricket this year, but accumulated 620 runs at 47.69 for Somerset in 2022.

Meanwhile, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will be refreshed after once again electing not to play IPL cricket this year, enjoying a rare break from the game.

Cummins, who has not played red-ball cricket since he left India in February, was Australia’s leading wicket-taker in the previous Ashes tour, while Starc only made one appearance in 2019 as seam bowlers were prioritised.

Renshaw reveals English Ashes dream! | 01:32

Usman Khawaja and Travis Head will return to England on the back of an immensely successful 18 months in the Test arena, but both are hunting redemption.

The two left-handers were axed during the 2019 Ashes and are still searching for their maiden Test century in the United Kingdom.

Nathan Lyon was Australia’s lone strike spinner in 2019, but the tweaker will be accompanied by spectacled prodigy Todd Murphy in England this winter.

The Victorian off-spinner enjoyed a breakout Test tour of India earlier this year, rewarded with a national contract and an Ashes call-up.

However, CA reportedly blocked Murphy’s availability for the first half of County Championship matches to monitor his workload, with the 22-year-old nursing a minor side strain after the India tour.

Alex Carey remains Australia’s first-choice wicketkeeper, with West Australian gloveman Josh Inglis accompanying him to England as injury cover.

Australia’s Test batting average in England

59.55 — Steve Smith

50.42 — Marnus Labuschagne

27.28 — Travis Head

26.04 — David Warner

19.66 — Usman Khawaja

14.83 — Mitchell Marsh

9.66 — Marcus Harris

Australia’s Test bowling average in England

15.66 — Mitchell Marsh

19.62 — Pat Cummins

23.58 — Josh Hazlewood

31.27 — Mitchell Starc

31.62 — Nathan Lyon

Australia’s players celebrate winning the Ashes last year. Photo by William WEST / AFP-Source: AFP

ENGLAND’S OVERFLOWING CASUALTY WARD

Last week, the ECB confirmed that Jofra Archer, who has not played Test cricket since February 2021, had been ruled out of the entire summer with a stress fracture in his elbow.

It was the 28-year-old’s third stress fracture in as many years, adding another unwanted chapter to his “frustrating and upsetting” stint on the sidelines.

Fringe England speedsters Olly Stone and Brydon Carse will alsobe unavailable for the start of this year’s Ashes, while Surrey seamer Jamie Overton has been ruled out with a stress fracture of his own.

Veteran seamer James Anderson, the world’s No. 2 Test bowler, was sent for scans after missing last week’s County Championship action with a “low-grade” groin injury. The 41-year-old was named in England’s squad for the Lord’s Test against Ireland, but it’s uncertain whether he’ll be available for selection.

“Obviously, it’s not great getting an injury, especially in a game, but it’s probably the best outcome of what it is, it’s a low-grade thing,” Anderson told the Tailenders podcast.

“I’m hoping in a couple of weeks I’ll be back to full fitness.

“I think I will be fit for the (Ireland) game. Whether I play or not is probably another matter really. I definitely don’t want to risk it.

“I am desperate to be fit for the first Ashes Test. If that means missing the Ireland Test, so be it.”

Archer ruled out of entire Ashes series | 01:29

Meanwhile, England will be breathing a sigh of relief after Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson was cleared of serious injury after hurting his ankle in the County Championship over the weekend.

The 29-year-old, who claimed 11 wickets at 25.54 in the previous Ashes series, limped off the field during Sussex’s recent match against Glamorgan at Hove, later spotted on crutches wearing a protective boot.

“He‘s got a sore ankle and he’ll be scanned on Monday to see how bad it is,“ Sussex coach Paul Farbrace said last week.

“It was precautionary, there was no point in making it worse.”

Robinson has been in scintillating form in the County Championship this season, taking 20 wickets at 13.65 in three matches for Sussex, including a career-best 14-wicket haul against Worcestershire earlier this month.

“Robinson had a scan on Monday to determine the extent of some discomfort in his left ankle,” the ECB said in a statement.

“Scan results have revealed no damage to the ankle and that Robinson will join up with the England men’s Test squad this weekend.”

Ben Stokes, who hasn’t played any cricket since early April, is still nursing a long-standing knee issue that has heavily restricted his bowling. Pending his fitness, the England captain may serve as a specialist batter for the start of the Ashes.

ENGLAND RECALLS FORGOTTEN STARS

England’s injury woes have opened the door for several fringe players to push their case for Ashes selection, with four forgotten names recalled for the Lord’s Test against Ireland.

Durham quick Matthew Potts, one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, has been this season’s most consistent bowler in the County Championship with 30 wickets at 21.16.

Injury setbacks for Anderson and Robinson have opened the door for the 24-year-old to potentially make his return to international cricket in London next week, having played five Tests for England last year.

Dan Lawrence, whose most recent Test appearance came in March last year, was picked as England’s reserve batter for the Ireland match, scoring 339 runs at 33.90 for Essex in the County Championship this season, including a century against Middlesex at Lord’s.

“I’ve never doubted my ability when it comes to playing at that level,” Lawrence said last year.

“It’s about me just doing it now, really. Trying to put pressure on all the lads that are already in.”

Chris Woakes also returns to England’s Test squad after a 14-month hiatus, putting together a handful of decent first-class performances for Warwickshire this month.

Meanwhile, Durham paceman Mark Wood, arguably England’s best bowler during the 2021/22 Ashes, is the host nation’s only fit paceman capable of exceeding 145km/h.

The 33-year-old returned home from the IPL early for the birth of his daughter after playing four games for the Lucknow Super Giants, taking a career-best 5-14 against the Delhi Capitals.

England bowler Mark Wood. Photo by William WEST / AFPSource: AFP

ENGLAND’S BATTING DILEMMA

England dropped wicketkeeper Ben Foakes ahead of the Lord’s Test against Ireland, with national selectors entrusting Jonny Bairstow to don the gloves this season.

Bairstow was a standout performer in the Test arena last summer, plundering 681 runs at 75.66 as a specialist batter with a mind-boggling strike rate of 96.59 in six matches.

However, the Yorkshire gloveman suffered a severe leg injury in September last year, missing the T20 World Cup along with Test tours of Pakistan and New Zealand.

Bairstow was replaced in the starting XI by young gun Harry Brook, who dominated in Pakistan and New Zealand with 809 runs at 80.90 with a strike rate of 98.77, including four centuries in six Tests.

Brook, initially considered a temporary replacement, was suddenly impossible to drop, and Foakes becomes the unlucky player forced to make way ahead of Bairstow’s return.

Bairstow marked his long-awaited return from injury with a blistering 97 (88) for Yorkshire’s second XI last month, but the 33-year-old has looked scratchy with the bat in the County Championship, scoring 83 runs at 27.66 in two appearances.

Meanwhile, Brook will return to England this week after a horrendous IPL campaign with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, where he accumulated 190 runs in 11 matches at 21.11.

The 24-year-old blasted an unbeaten century against the Kolkata Knights Riders at Eden Gardens last month, but was dropped after registering scores of 9, 18, 7, 0, 0, 27* and 0, with the Sunrisers finishing bottom of the IPL ladder.

Meanwhile, former England captain Joe Root made three appearances for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, scoring 10 (15) in his lone knock. The 32-year-old has reportedly spent most of his time in India facing red balls in the nets.

Yorkshire wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Ben Duckett is expected to open the batting for England in the Ashes after his prolific winter in the Test arena, smacking 508 runs at 56.44 with a strike rate of 95.48.

The Nottinghamshire opener’s impressive form continued in the County Championship, scoring 401 runs at 44.55 including his 177 against Middlesex at Lord’s last month. However, Duckett has never played a Test match in the United Kingdom, the ultimate challenge for any opener.

Meanwhile, Zak Crawley is under pressure to keep his spot in England’s XI after failing to reach fifty in eight consecutive Test knocks. The Kent opener has been solid, albeit inconsistent, in the County Championship this season, scoring 403 runs at 36.63 including a classy century against Essex in Canterbury last month.

However, Crawley has struggled in English conditions over the last couple of years, averaging 18.33 with the bat in home Tests since the start of 2021.

Earlier this month, The Times reported that England selectors had discussed the possibility of Stokes opening the batting in this year’s Ashes series at the expense of Crawley.

Ollie Pope, unveiled as England’s Test vice-captain last month, is expected to retain the critical No. 3 spot ahead of the Ashes. The 25-year-old has scored 379 runs at 54.14 for Surrey in the County Championship this year, including last month’s belligerent 122 not out against Hampshire at The Oval.

Test regulars Stuart Broad and Jack Leach are both coming off decent form in the County Championship, and will fine-tune their Ashes preparation in next week’s Ireland match.

Stuart Broad of Nottinghamshire. Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

England’s Test batting average against Australia

38.76 — Joe Root

34.02 — Ben Stokes

29.29 — Jonny Bairstow

27.66 — Zak Crawley

11.16 — Ollie Pope

England’s Test bowling average against Australia

25.54 — Ollie Robinson

29.05 — Stuart Broad

31.25 — Mark Wood

33.76 — James Anderson

35.05 — Jack Leach

39.68 — Ben Stokes

46.44 — Chris Woakes

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