Gary Ballance is likely to make his Test debut for England at Sydney in the final Ashes 2013-14 Test © Getty Images
By Shrikant Shankar
England have tried and tested many combinations during the ongoing Ashes 2013-14 series against Australia. Every time they have been thumped and now trail 0-4 in the series with the fifth and final Test to begin at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 3, 2014. All the main performers available from the previous three victorious Ashes campaigns were used and it has simply not clicked. England stare at an embarrassing 5-0 whitewash.
Irrespective of the fear of losing the fifth Test, England need to ring in the changes to their starting XI. They have to look at the future and start preparing from now. If the series was in the balance, then it was probably not necessary. But they have been completely outplayed in all the four Test matches so far. The psychological scars could be deep and some of them would find it difficult to bounce back in this series.. Hence, they need to make the changes.
Leg-spinner Scott Borthwick and middle-order batsman Gary Ballance are likely to get their England debuts on January 3 at the SCG. There is even talk of tall fast bowler Boyd Rankin coming in. So, who will they replace? Borthwick is a very handy batsman lower down the order and he would probably replace left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. Captain Alastair Cook’s deteriorating lack of belief in Panesar during the Melbourne Test was evident. Panesar is neither a good batsman nor is he a good fielder. So, Borthwick might be included.
Ballance might come in for Michael Carberry. It is actually a little harsh that Carberry has to make way as he is England’s second highest run-scorer in the series. The major concern with the left-handed opener is that he is naturally an attacking batsman and has batted well within himself in the series. He has got starts in the first innings of all the four Tests so far, but his second innings contribution is as dire as anybody else in the England team.
Then there is Tim Bresnan, who was picked for the third and the fourth Tests. His selection was mainly due to his batting abilities in the lower-order as he is not the most lethal with the ball. But Bresnan has not done enough with the bat in the series and Mitchell Johnson has rattled him in the middle. So Rankin is the obvious candidate to replace him. While Rankin is not much help with the bat, he is a fast bowler and can unsettle the Australian batsmen with his pace and height.
Steven Finn is the other fast bowler who might be in the fray, but the England team management do not seem confident in his abilities. Finn was a part of the previous two Ashes triumphs for England, but he was more a passenger than a co-pilot. These changes might mean that Joe Root could go back to open with Cook and Ian Bell could get promoted to No 3. Whatever the changes, England have to perform. They have not stepped up in the series. They need to think about the future and start planning from now.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)