England squad balanced to retain record fourth Ashes by picking Ballance, Rankin, Panesar and Tremlett

(Clockwise from top left) Gary Ballance, Boyd Rankin, Monty Panesar, Chris Tremlett. While Ballance and Rankin are on their maiden tour, Tremlett’s success in Ashes three years ago will be vital for England. For Panesar, the selection is yet another chance to emerge as a reliable spinner after Graeme Swann © Getty Images

England announced a 17-man squad on September 23 for the winter tour of Australia in a bid to win their fourth Ashes series on the trot. The selection committee picked up a balanced side — including three uncapped players and tall fast bowlers who are expected to make a difference on the bouncy Australian wickets. Sarang Bhalerao analyses the England squad.

September 23 afternoon, the national selector Geoff Miller announced a 17-member England squad for the winter Ashes in Australia which was on the expected lines but there were a few surprising moves.

Looking at the 17 names one would consider the following things:

There are four fast bowlers in the line-up — Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin — all of who are tall bowlers who rely mainly on extracting good bounce from the wicket. This type of bowling may reap rewards in the pace-friendly Australian conditions. Tremlett has had success in the Australian conditions three years back. This worked significantly in his favour at the time of selection. Besides he has been in supreme form this season with the ball.

The English attack will be led by James Anderson whose forte is swing. Take him out of the attack and all of a sudden the pace bowling department becomes one-dimensional. The inclusion of Ben Stokes is a positive move considering his stellar performances in the recently-concluded One-Day Internationals (ODIs) against Australia. Limited-overs coach Ashley Giles had told reporters about Stokes’s possible inclusion in the Ashes touring party considering he is young and an exciting prospect. The New Zealand born Durham all-rounder may not play in any of the Test matches but he has the propensity to be the next big all-rounder. This stint with the Test side is bound to do his confidence a world of good.

Stokes’s inclusion meant that Chris Woakes had to wait for his chances in the future. He was part of England team in the final Test at The Oval. He picked up one wicket in the game and scored 45 runs in the Test.

The exclusion of Graham Onions is baffling though. Reasons being, he was part of England side in the Ashes 2013 but didn’t play in a single Test. He was part of Durham side that won the county championship just the last week. Onions felt gutted after being left out. He expressed his disappointment on Twitter immediately after the squad was announced. His Durham coach and former England Test cricketer said: “I think Graham is in the right place at the wrong time.” It is difficult for Onions to break into the side after injury and at the moment breaking into the England side is tough considering they have a squad that has been producing consistent results over the past three-four years. So there is hardly any tinkering in the combination. Onions is a sort of bowler who relies on pitching the ball up and relying on the seam movement. The management backed the tall bowlers and have invested their confidence in the young bowling department — those envisaged to be the torchbearers of English cricket in the coming years. Age might have gone against Onions who is currently 31.

Gary Ballance, the Zimbabwe born Yorkshire cricketer, has been included in the side on the basis of his red-hot form this summer. He has been Yorkshire’s vital cog in the batting department. He scored a ton against Australia representing England Lions between the fourth and the fifth Ashes Test. His performances against Bangladesh A further fast-tracked his ascension to the England team. He has been selected ahead of James Taylor who has been on the fringes of selection in the middle-order. Ballance might give Jonny Bairstow a run for his money in the middle-order. The latter has been struggling to get big scores but the management has invested faith in him. He has been named the second wicketkeeper on the tour. In the 12 Test matches so far he has scored 544 at an average of 30. 22 with four half-centuries. Against Australia he scored 203 runs in seven innings with top-score of 67.

Another inexplicable exclusion was that of Nick Compton. Michael Carberry, who has played just one Test, was included as a third opener. Compton has done nothing wrong except one poor home series against New Zealand. He scored a couple of centuries against New Zealand at the start of the year and showed a lot of promise. But the rise of Joe Root coupled with Compton’s poor form saw his ouster from the team. Compton was fighting to win back his opening spot during Ashes 2013. Australian skipper Michael Clarke told BBC: “I’m happy Nick’s not playing to be honest. He’s got a bit of class and has good defence.”

If Carberry and Compton’s domestic form were to be compared, the latter wins hands down. If age were a factor then Compton (31) is younger than Carberry (33).

Monty Panesar was expected to make a comeback in the England scheme of things. Simon Kerrigan and James Tredwell were not able to make any significant impact on the Australians. While Graeme Swann will be the frontline spinner, it will be interesting to see if the English management is willing to play the extra spinner considering Australia’s problems against the spinners. Sydney might be the venue which could see the English spin twins in action.

The core group has not been tinkered with. Alastair Cook and Joe Root will open the innings with Jonathan Trott batting at No 3. He has been in bad form in the ODI series recording two golden ducks. Expect him to rise upto the occasion in Australia. Kevin Pietersen, the dynamic No 4 batsman, will be expected to play freely and score truckloads of runs. During the last visit to Australia, his monumental double hundred at the Adelaide Oval was a treat to watch. Ian Bell is in the form of his life — he scored three tons in the Ashes 2013 which highlights his immense run hunger. Matt Prior will be the first-choice wicketkeeper. He has been England’s best wicketkeeper whose exploits with the bat have boded well for his team. Tim Bresnan will travel with the team and continue his rehabilitation with the national team in Australia.

England look in good shape to take on Australia. If they manage to pull off a series win this will be their record fourth consecutive Ashes triumph. England have never won four consecutive Ashes since 1890.

Australia will be looking to avoid the ignominy of losing four Ashes in a row. Mind games have already begun with Australian coach calling England side a “dour”. He also publicly condemned Stuart Broad as a cheat following his decision not to walk after edging a ball that was caught by Clarke at the first slip.

Lehmann also claimed at finding the chinks in the English armoury. Talking of Jonathan Trott, Lehmann told AFP: “We’ve made some inroads [getting into Trott’s head], and I hope that continue. He’s a good player. But I think we’ve worked out plans, which seem to work for most of their batters.”

Expect an enthralling contest which begins at the Gabba from November 21.

England squad for the Ashes 2013-14:

Alastair Cook (c), Matt Prior (wk), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Stuart Broad,  Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Jonathan Trott.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)