The Ashes 2013-14 September 21, 2013

Rankin likely for Ashes, but questions remain


Debates over the identity of the second spinner, reserve wicketkeeper and reserve batsmen will occupy the minds of the England selectors ahead of the announcement of the Ashes squad on Monday.

While it is possible to predict, fitness permitting, nine of the 11 that will represent England in the first Test in Brisbane, the choice of the remaining members of the squad is as open as it has been for several years. Several players face agonising disappointment or great elation.

There is little prospect of England picking two spinners in any of the Tests in Australia. While there was a time when such a scenario was a possibility in Sydney, those days have largely gone. When Australia beat Sri Lanka there in January, their spinner, Nathan Lyon, claimed only two wickets.

So the second spinner in the Ashes squad is there in case Graeme Swann suffers injury. Whoever is selected must be capable of performing the role of lone spinner for England in an Ashes Test.

The experience of Simon Kerrigan at The Oval illustrates what a hard task that is and how small the pool of candidates remains. While James Tredwell is the type of character - calm, low-maintenance and reliable - that this England management favour, his record in red-ball cricket this season is modest. He has taken only 13 wickets at a cost of 55.76 in the Championship. The form of other experienced players, the likes of Gareth Batty, is similarly modest.

Kerrigan's debut is likely to deter England from considering a similarly untried spinner in Australia. While the likes of Scott Borthwick and Moeen Ali may well be included in performance squad that will shadow the full team for part of the tour, it would be asking a bit much to expect them to fill-in for Swann just yet. Borthwick, the Durham legspinner, is an attractive option, but he does not, at this stage, offer the control England require from their Test spinner.

With Kerrigan, for now, out of the picture, Monty Panesar may be the best available reserve to Swann. So long as his off-field issues - and the England management will need assurances about his mental fitness to tour before committing to him - can be controlled, Panesar has the experience and qualities as a bowler to warrant selection. Besides, it may be that a prolonged return to the England camp revives his spirits. Taking him would be a risk, but England are not flush with options.

Indeed, the difficult of the second-spinner selection highlights a major issue: the excellence of Swann continues to mask deficiencies within the reserves of England's spin bowling. His eventual retirement will leave a gaping hole.

England have far more options when it comes to selecting a pack of fast bowlers. While Stuart Broad and James Anderson are certainties, Tim Bresnan is also highly likely to be included, possibly as a 17th man, with a view to him regaining full fitness in the opening weeks of the tour.

Boyd Rankin, too, looks certain to travel. Rankin's pace and hostility in the ODI series against Australia was impressive and, as he relaxes in the England environment, will only grow. He just could prove to be a key player in the Ashes.

The final two fast-bowling spots could be taken by Steven Finn and Graham Onions. While Onions would be, in essence, providing injury cover for Anderson, Finn remains a player of great potential who could come into the side if required. Realistically, though, the trip would prove a chance to work with the England fast bowling coach, David Saker, for a prolonged period.

That would see Chris Tremlett and Chris Woakes missing out. Woakes enjoyed a respectable Test debut at The Oval and might yet prove himself a decent No. 6 but his style of bowling is not particularly well suited to Australian pitches. Tremlett, sadly, has lost the pre-injury nip that made him such a dangerous player.

There could be a couple of batting allrounders in the squad. Ben Stokes, by virtue of his extra pace with the ball, his excellent fielding and his ability with the bat, would be a fine utility player and could balance the side by batting at No. 6. At 22, he is a player in development and there will be times when he frustrates but his all-round talents are obvious and he may prove worth a prolonged period of investment. Ravi Bopara, now rehabilitated, has a strong case for inclusion and could add a few economical overs if required.

The last time England embarked on an Ashes tour, in 2010-11, they did not take a reserve opener. Nick Compton remains the outstanding candidate for the role, but it may be that his reaction to being omitted earlier in the summer has damaged the relationship between him and the England management. Other options include Varun Chopra, Sam Robson and Luke Wells but all are untried at this level, while Michael Carberry has endured a modest season against the red ball. With Joe Root still adjusting to the demands of opening in Test cricket, however, it would be quite a risk not to take some back-up.

The position of reserve wicketkeeper may prove equally contentious. Several players have made a case for inclusion - Steven Davies, Craig Kieswetter and Jos Buttler among them - but England have invested time in the development of Jonny Bairstow and may well feel that, with his ability to bat and field in several conditions taken into account, he is a decent utility squad member.

Possible England squad: Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Jonny Bairstow, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin, Monty Panesar.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CricketingStargazer on September 23, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    @jg2704 Are you only counting Championship wickets? There is a First Class stats page.

  • yorkshire-86 on September 23, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    I can't believe someone actually selected Gareth Batty! Certainly the worst ever player to play for England in the last 10 years, probably the worst ever spinner or all time! Panesar (he hasn't had a mental breakdown), Tredwell (2 bad games and discarded?), or Rashid (best leggie in country) should be there.

  • DrTchock on September 23, 2013, 11:15 GMT

    Can it at least be acknowledged that Durham is the champion county? And can we remember that 'in the olden days' that used to count for something? Dreaming up the name Luke Wells is simply an attempt to appear knowledgeable about County cricket & score some points. Similarly with Vince (NOT an opener in 4-day cricket & plays in Div2, although a future England regular) & Moeen (2nd Div runs are MUCH cheaper). Why does Mark Stoneman's name not get a mention? He has 1000 championship runs, in 1st Div, for the champion county, whilst batting on a corrugated sheet at the Riverside every other week. He scores his runs at a one-day strike-rate, has played 5 or 6 summers in Oz, is a fantastic back-foot player, is a great fielder & is rated highly enough by Durham to captain the one-day & T20 sides. Why is his name not mentioned whilst these other 'southern' boys get talked up. And the other debate isnt worth even pursuing - James Anderson aside, Graham Onions is the best seamer in England.

  • pragmatist on September 23, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    Can't see them taking Compton. Carberry will be the reserve opener... Tremlett has to go given the impact he made last time. No obvious second spinner comes to mind. Bairstow the reserve keeper although Buttler may get a chance.

  • hhillbumper on September 23, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    They should take Taylor as back up batsman.Moeen Ali deserves a go as well but plays for Worcs so no chance.David Willey should be on a tour as should Topley.Shame we can't get Wasim in to coach the left armers.

    As for all the Aussie posters we all know you are unbeatable at home and that whatever we put up will be demolished. But given all the young fast bowling talent you have does it not worry you that without Harris you would have been in trouble.

    Also apart from Smith the only decent innings came from Rogers who is 35, Clarke who is a walking back injury and Watson who frankly is a walking wicket if England bowl properly.

    The England batting order play better on pitches with same pace and bounce which especially suits Cook and Pietersen. We know the hype will have started already but lets be honest you have not won a test for ages. The way you carry on you would think you were an all time great side. The empty vessels make the most noise obviously

  • Cyril_Knight on September 23, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    Kerrigan cannot play for England at the moment, he is a bottle-job. England threw him in in a dead Test to see if he had the nerve, he melted. They will not pick a player who does not have the mental strength for Test cricket. Alistair Cook doesn't trust him, he showed that by refusing to bowl him again at The Oval. A captain must have complete faith his bowlers, especially when they work to such rigid plans as England.

    As for Steve Davies. I've seen every 1st Division keeper this season and he is by far the best package. His keeping in 2012 was awful as he struggled with concentration (for obvious Maynard related reasons). But this season he was back to his best (not that he got many catches with Surrey's terrible bowling). No other keeper comes close to his ability with the bat. @Mark Gowers if you think that Simpson is a better keeper then Davies you're nuts, Gary Wilson, is so if you meant him then fair enough.

  • Kidderwolf on September 23, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    To be fair to Davies, he has scored 3 centuries over the course of the season, and average isn't that bad when you condider he has been one of the few decent players in an awful season for Surrey. At times he has had to dig in and show some grit which has helped his cause.

    I take the point about his keeping though, the last couple of seasons he hasn't been at his best, but like, most keepers that will come with greater maturity.

  • dummy4fb on September 23, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    i cant believe Steve Davies even gets a mention,one hundred in the last game of the season and his keeping!He isnt the best keeper in London in fact technically hes one of the worst in the country.Its time we went back to picking the best keeper and then look at the batting.

  • wrenx on September 23, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    @Steve O'Nions @Darren Cook I really think it's about time the team play under the title of The UK then. Steve, you're right, he's from Northern Ireland, therefore a British citizen by birth. But that doesn't change the fact that he's playing for the *England & Wales* Cricket Board. Not the "England, Wales and Northern Ireland" Cricket Board. Not sure where this would leave Scotland, but in the current set up, there is far too much ambiguity over the place of Northern Irish cricketers.

  • Vishnu27 on September 23, 2013, 3:26 GMT

    CricketingStargazer: no doubt Broad will revel in the conditions here (he will be a major concern for Australia in current form). Finn will enjoy the conditions, but can't continue to leak runs & release pressure when attacked (as he will be). Anderson finally had some success last time in Australia when the conditions were more to his liking. If both Rankin & Tremlett are fit, they should tour here. The problem will be how your batsmen handle the extra pace & bounce. Trott clearly has issues that are going to get a thorough examination this summer. As to your bowling speed point: I think we will see the Australian attack bowl with greater pace with the Kookaburra ball with not having to worry about controlling the swing of the Dukes.