England's squad to win and/or lose the Ashes - Part 1
England announced their squad to ruthlessly demolish the quivering Australians amidst some razzmatazz last week, whilst the all-but-already-defeated Ricky Ponting and his about-to-be-thrashed bundle of inferior cricketing specimens were warming up for their warm-up series in India, desperately trying to enjoy a few days of nice, friendly cricket before their ritual humiliation inevitably begins in Brisbane late in November.
Sorry, let me rephrase that. England announced their squad to be ruthlessly exposed yet again in Australian conditions, as Ricky Ponting and his vengeance-hungry troops prepare to pull their baggy-green caps especially determinedly down over their wrinkly green foreheads and reassert their traditional superiority over their old enemy and greatest adversary, India, in what promises to be an intense if stupidly brief series. They will then head home to exert home advantage over an England side, none of whose players have ever not lost a Test in Australia.
Or it might be a closely matched series between two decent but flawed teams. At least it will be the first time since I was still a boy that England have sailed off to an Ashes series without expecting to be beaten like a naughty egg white, and without the summit of their hopes being the partial retention of their cricketing dignity. (Do they still sail to the Ashes? I’m a little bit out of the loop on that one.)
On paper – by which I mean, on the bit of paper on which I’ve written down some statistics − these are two very closely matched teams. In the ICC Test rankings, for what they are worth, Australia are officially the fourth best Test team in the solar system, and England the fifth best, with respective ranking points of 113 and 112. If you add up the individual rankings of the likely starting XIs, there is almost no difference between the two teams’ batting (England 5517, Australia 5466) or pace bowling (England 1878, Australia 1906). Only in Swann’s superiority over Hauritz (858-498) does one side have a clear advantage.
Nevertheless, the English press have been bullish about the team’s prospects – in some cases, as bullish as the streets of Pamplona during idiot season. (And that, readers, I believe to be perhaps the first running-of-the-bulls joke in a cricket blog).
Since the end of the last Ashes in Australia in 2006-07 (I forget what happened in that series, the last thing I can remember of it is Collingwood and Pietersen smashing the Aussies all over the Adelaide Oval, so I assume it all worked out fine), the new, post-Warne-and-McGrath-and-the-rest-of-that-annoyingly-brilliant-side Australia have won 20 Tests and lost nine (with seven draws). The gradually-and-belatedly-emerging-into-the-post-2005-era England have won 20 and lost 10 (with 16 draws).
There now follows a two-part statistical run-down of the England team. Firstly, a look at the England team that will definitely, without any question, and barely even having to break sweat, spank Australia into the cricketing stratosphere. On Thursday or Friday, I will post a statistical run-down of the England team that obviously will be swept aside by the rampant Aussies in a fug of all-too-familiar English ineptitude. And when the Australians have finished their two-Test series in India, I will have a similar crack at their statistics. And then we can all kick back, relax, and get on with the rest of our lives.
THE ASHES-WINNING ENGLAND XI, 2010-11
Strauss Already joint seventh on the all-time England run-scoring chart after little over six years in Test cricket, the Middlesex magus is the fifth highest run-scorer in world cricket since January 2008. With a square cut like a Victorian headmaster punishing a boy who sniggered at hymn practice, Strauss has three Ashes centuries already under his much-decorated belt, and skippered the team to victory in 2009 with a Man-of-The-Series-winning performance that many consider the greatest deed by an Englishman since Shakespeare wrote those rather overlong skits of his.
Cook The youngest Englishman − and second-youngest person in the history of the universe, male, female or otherwise − to reach 4000 Test runs. Cook, despite sometimes batting as if he’s trying to sell advertising space on the outside edge of his bat, has scored four centuries in his last 11 Tests, including his two best England innings since his stellar debut, in Durban and at The Oval. Housewives’ favourite – if those housewives like players who accumulate steadily with plenty of nudges into the leg side.
Trott Scored a supernaturally calm Ashes-confirming century on debut at The Oval in 2009, produced another masterpiece to help clinch this summer’s Pakistan series, and has a Test average of 55. Bats like a cross between Jacques Kallis and an anxiously fidgeting death row inmate waiting for news from his lawyer.
Pietersen Match-changing dominator with the capacity to dismantle a bowling attack as if it were a £2 carriage clock. More shots in his locker than Allen Stanford has skeletons in his. KP averages 50 against Australia, the fourth-best such figure in world cricket this millennium, and the best by a non-Indian (qualification: at least five Tests).
Collingwood Scored a superb double-hundred in Adelaide four years ago, and averages almost 48 in away Tests (and over 40 in eight of his last nine away series). The kind of defiant, unflappable cricketer who would have swum to Dunkirk in his pads and evacuated some troops on his bat.
Bell Stylist who can make batting look as simple as staring at an egg. Averages 61 in Tests since making a crucial if oft-forgotten 71 in the decisive Oval Test of 2009, and has scored six half-centuries in his last eight Ashes Tests, including four in five in Australia four years ago. Now officially renamed by the ECB as “The Flamethrower Of Eternal Justice” to make him sound more intimidating.
Prior With a Test average of 42, he is England’s second-highest averaging wicketkeeper ever (after Les Ames, who was unavailable for selection after a fitness test confirmed his failure to recover from his death at age 84 in 1990). Prior also has the fourth-highest batting average in human history of any wicketkeeper who has played more than 10 Test innings (behind Andy Flower, Gilchrist and Ames). His glovework, once regarded with such suspicion that it was arrested and interrogated by MI5, is now excellent.
Swann Transforming from a county also-ran into a modern England great like a forgetful larva suddenly remembering it was supposed to be a prize-winning butterfly, Swann has taken a phenomenal 113 wickets at 26 in his 24 Tests since his debut two years ago, including nine five-wicket hauls. This makes him, by a vast margin, England’s best spinner since Derek Underwood. Ranked as the second-best bowler in the world, he is the world’s leading wicket-taker over the past two years, and the world’s top spinner by an almost embarrassing margin. Excellent natural smiter of a cricket ball, who scored 250 critical and quick lower-order runs in 2009 Ashes.
Broad In between repeated tellings-off by match referees for being a little bit naughty, Broad has taken 45 wickets at 27 in his last 12 Tests, and has produced series-winning performances in the final Tests of both 2009 and 2010 – his career-defining spell at The Oval to decide the Ashes in 2009, and his 169 at Lord’s against Pakistan, the second-highest Test innings ever by a No. 9, and ending once and for all the debate over whether he is a better No. 9 batsman than previous England incumbents Matthew Hoggard, Alan Mullally, and Neil Mallender.
Anderson The planet’s No. 4 bowler according to current rankings, Anderson has taken 118 wickets at 27 in his last 30 Tests. He always has the ability to make the ball talk. On occasions, it has said: “What in God’s name are you doing, Jimmy? That bat hurts when it smashes me for four.” This summer, it said: “I’m going to get you out.” And it meant it.
Finn A strong start to his Test career, with 32 wickets at 23 in eight tests. Twenty-six of his victims have been top seven batsmen. Finn is tall. Curtly Ambrose was tall. He once bowled a spell of 7 for 1 in Perth. Logically, therefore, Finn will definitely do the same.
Morgan A brilliant strokemaker with four international centuries this year already, including one against Australia in an ODI, and a maiden Test 100 under pressure against Pakistan. Ireland must be regretting fighting for independence from the UK. If they had stuck it out, they could be enjoying his England successes as their own.
Davies has a first-class average over 40, and a couple of promisingly potent ODI innings against Pakistan. Left-handed, aggressive, a wicketkeeper – he clearly must be the new Adam Gilchrist, but more so, and better.
Bresnan is whole-hearted and improving with the ball, reminiscent of a young Flintoff as he increases his repertoire of deliveries; averages 46 in 12 ODI innings against Australia. Has displayed excellent swearing skills on Twitter, could prove useful as a 12th man/specialist sledger.
Panesar is a proven Test wicket-taker, still young for a spinner but with 126 Test victims and eight five-wicket hauls already in his cellar. Possesses an elegant, stylish off drive. Seldom hits the ball with it, but it looks great.
Tremlett had a creditable Test debut series in 2007 against a strong Indian batting line-up, and has a solid first-class record. Tremlett is tall. Joel Garner was tall. Garner took 89 Australia Test wickets at an average of 20. Logically, therefore, Tremlett will definitely do the same.
Part two, the Ashes-losing England XI, 2010-11, will follow in Friday
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer