The Ashes 2013-14 September 23, 2013

The Ashes tour of the giant fast bowler

England's squad looks impressive - especially when it comes to the height of their quick bowlers - but they are gambling on their plans working perfectly and have ignored some compelling domestic form

The inclusion of Gary Ballance may delight headline writers, but it is the somewhat ironic lack of balance in the Ashes squad that may come back to haunt England.

Size is everything in this squad. The inclusion of four tall, strong seamers - Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn - underlines the preference of the current England management for bowlers of such characteristics above all other considerations. England are in the age of the giant fast bowler.

There is some logic in the policy. On Australian pitches expected to offer more pace and bounce than those seen in the Ashes series in England, such bowlers could prove a handful. The limitations of traditional English seam or swing bowlers can sometimes be exposed on such surfaces.

But there is no obvious Plan B available in this England squad. If James Anderson is injured - and the thought of it should be enough to send shivers down the spine of any England supporter - the England seam attack will have the subtly of a sledgehammer. Height, pace and bounce are valuable attributes, but they are not the only attributes and the inclusion of Rankin and Tremlett et al. looks like too much of a good thing.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the selectors no longer have much regard for performances at county level. If they did, Graham Onions - who has taken 143 first-class wickets at an average of 18.39 in the last two seasons - would have been an automatic selection. Instead they have opted for Tremlett, who has been selected more due to memories of his performances in Australia in 2010-11 than any recent success, and Rankin, who is bowling with menace but has taken one five-wicket haul since May 2011. Onions, by contrast, has taken five this season.

It is not hard to understand Onions' disappointment. Indeed, writing on Twitter, he said "Disappointed is an understatement, absolutely gutted."

Onions has been, without question, the best English-qualified seamer in county cricket over the last couple of years. While it is true that pitches at his home ground in Durham offer more assistance than any England are likely to find in Australia, he has also taken wickets away from home. In Durham's last two away Championship games, Onions claimed match-figures of 9 for 85 in Derby, which is generally one of the best wickets in the country, and first-innings figures of 7 for 62 at Lord's. His qualities - accuracy and movement - are timeless, yet it seems they are outdated to the current England management.

While the selectors have ignored Onions' excellent domestic record, they have also overlooked Michael Carberry's modest form. Carberry, who has scored one Championship century in two seasons of Division Two cricket, has been preferred to Nick Compton, who has scored six Division One centuries and two more in Test cricket in the same period and is more than two-years younger. Character has, in Carberry's case, been deemed more important than achievement.

None of this means the selectors are wrong. They may well have identified skills that will be useful in Australia and ignored accomplishments that they feel are less relevant. But it is intriguing that the England management seem to have deemed, rightly or wrongly, the Compton experiment - that is the experiment of calling up a player from outside the youth teams or Lions programme on the back of excellent performances in county cricket - a failure. It may well be that they are reluctant to trust county performances again. It is a dangerous road down which to venture.

The selection of Ben Stokes ahead of Chris Woakes for the allrounder's position might be seen in the same way. While Woakes' first-class record - a batting average of 38.04 and a bowling average of 25.91 - is a little better than Stokes' - 36.23 and 27.19 respectively - the selectors have again decided that the latter's extra pace will render him more dangerous at Test level. It is, in general, a reasonable assumption, though it is worth recalling the success of Chaminda Vaas, Vernon Philander and Terry Alderman. You might even question whether Anderson, if he was six or seven years younger, would be considered by this England regime.

Ballance's first-class record is excellent and his selection quite reasonable. He has a career average well in excess of 50 in both List A and first-class cricket and scored back-to-back centuries for England Lions against Australia and Bangladesh A only a month ago. He does not look the fittest but, aged 23, has time to improve that aspect of his game and has to be considered a genuine candidate to bat at No. 6 in the first Test at Brisbane.

It is also worth noting that none of the three uncapped players were born in England or Wales. While there is nothing wrong in England utilising all available options and, as result of a variety of historical issues, they have more options than most, it is intriguing that players whose initial development occurred outside England and Wales seem to thrive disproportionately and raises questions about the English system that it would be sensible to reflect upon. To be fair, suggesting that Stokes - born in New Zealand but as much a product of the north-east as Steve Harmison or Paul Collingwood - is anything other than home-grown would be stretching a point.

This is a squad that should be good enough to retain the Ashes. Australia are still in the early stages of their rebuilding operation and nine of the England XI for the first Test in Brisbane are likely to have been regular members of the team that won the series in England 3-0.

But questions remain about England's bench strength. Should injury befall either of England two key bowlers - Graeme Swann or Anderson - the gap between the sides will narrow substantially.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Matt on September 26, 2013, 15:19 GMT

    @impartialexpert - "Cook lacks the flair to be called a great yet". I don't disagree that he could not yet be called a great but Greatness has nothing to do with Flair. Don Bradman, surely the greatest cricketer of all time was not a 'flair' player but was beautiful to watch because of his movement, timing and his ability to play shots out of the text book...which leads to me a question, what exactly are you an expert on?

  • David on September 25, 2013, 15:55 GMT

    @ Juiceoftheapple says "So England WILL play a 4 man bowling attack, consisting of Anderson, Swann, Broad and one tall accurate fast bowler."

    I am relieved that you did not include Broad in the "tall, fast, accurate" bowler category. I would hate to have to accuse you of a terminological inexactitude. Eng have tall, yes. They have fast - sort of. Accurate and fast - dream on!

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    Onions isn't test match material

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    It ll be fun to watch wounded aussies against england..if this tour is scheduled after one year...aussies might have an outside chance...but kinda form australians are in now...i dont think of their dominance....

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2013, 4:56 GMT

    Almost any attack can bowl out this Aussie side!!! Jokes apart, this is a strategy that can so easily backfire. Remember, when India won in Perth in 2008, the Aussie's planned something similar- the fastest attack ever assembled (as it was hyped) consisted of Brett Lee, Mitchel Johnson and Shaun Tait, was unleashed. But what happened, they proved cannon fodder for the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin , VVS and even Irfan Pathan ( two crucial knocks in the match). They got carried away with the bounce and pace of WACA and started pitching it short. The experienced Indian batsmen kept leaving the bouncers and pounced on anything full. When the Indians bowled, the much slower, Irfan Pathan and RP Singh bowled full, swung the ball and blew away the then famed Aussie batting line up. Moral of the story- However tall or fast these English fast bowlers may be, unless they move the ball, they will prove useless. But with this Aussie line up - you never know- they may still collapse!!!

  • Paul on September 25, 2013, 2:30 GMT

    Can these guys swing the ball in Australian conditions? If not, they're playing into Australia's hands. Australian batsmen know how to play tall seamers when the ball's not swinging - hang on the back foot and watch the movement. It's only when it's swinging and they need to get forward that tall seamers cause problems.

  • Vinod on September 25, 2013, 0:25 GMT

    Is this guy, Garry Balance, going to be the next batting superstar. England are yet to produce a batsmen with real flair. But Peterson did it for England. Now is this Garry's turn? Cook is a good batsmen but lacks the flair to be called a great yet. Anybody saw his bat? How is he?

  • Simon on September 24, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    So England WILL play a 4 man bowling attack, consisting of Anderson, Swann, Broad and one tall accurate fast bowler (that'll be nearly the same attack that trounced Australia last time) - and people are deducing we are picking a bowling attack of no swing, based purely on size and an intention to bowl short. Hello!!! Cuckoo, cuckoo, wakey wakey. Tremlett is extremely accurate and hard to score off, even if he's not taking wickets.

  • Mark on September 24, 2013, 18:14 GMT

    @Tigg Graeme Onions's two wickets on tour last winter cost 156.5 each, he went at 4.7 runs per over and his strike rate was 201. Anyone who demands his selection on the grounds of form can only be an Australian!

    It could just be those figures that have made the selectors think that however effective he is on Durham greentops, he may not be quite as effective in Australia.

  • david on September 24, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    apart from broad non of the bowlers, bowl bouncers they all bowl wicket taking deliveries and most will be upwards of 90 mph so nothing much wrong there.