Well, our lads are in Australia right now, and the first WACA warm-up match starts in three days. Which means exactly 76 hours later, some young bastard named Greg Law or Stuart Bruwitt (or something like that) took Broad and Anderson to clean up and nailed the 2nd to our ashes coffins. a nail.
In any case, all is not lost. Ben Stokes may be as absent as the lettuce in Mike Gatting’s fridge, but at TFT we’ve found the perfect way to replace him. Or rather, the perfect way to fill in the cracks. Some might call it “all-eyed optimism” or “sticking to straws” — and they might be right — but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
After a few minutes of deliberation, I came up with an XI that I think gives us the best chance of winning/keeping the Ashes. It meant a team that avoided a humiliating defeat in Brisbane, slowly gained confidence and ended up stealing the series 3-2… thanks largely to a bit of luck in the Adelaide defeat.
Here are the criminals…
Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root, Bairstow, Moeen, Foakes, Woakes, Broad, Crane, Anderson
Now, before you guys tell me my XI is rubbish (really unnecessary as I totally accept it is rubbish), I want to offer the following disclaimer: All I do is die pick players least likely to embarrass myself. It’s a very convincing approach, don’t you think?
The first thing you’ll notice is that I’ve chosen Foakes as the goalie. That’s because I can’t accept Vince, Root, Malan’s 3, 4, 5. England need to form some serious partnerships – and the best way to do that is with two of our best middle-class players in the middle.
However, the downside of my plan is that it is almost impossible for our JB to hit 5 and hold the wicket. Too hot…especially for Ooop North Ginger. This makes Ben Foakes an expert goalkeeper.
The best thing about Foakes is that he’s a natural glove guy and as such will find himself far less awkward than Dawid Malan or Gary Ballance, who just pretend to be natural international hitters. You see how it works, right?
Now I can’t pretend my ideas are perfect. There is a very reasonable argument that Bairstow would have actually scored more if he had kept the wicket. In theory, he felt less pressure to be an “all-around player.” Well, I say “bullshit” to this theory. JB is a better, more confident hitter today than he was a few years ago when he played as a professional hitter. Besides, I refuse to even consider that I might be wrong on this one. Remember, “blind optimism” (albeit with some negative fatalism mixed in) is the name of the game here.
The next thing you’ll notice in my collection of misfits posing as potential Ash Award winners is my six-year-old Moen. There’s a good chance that Mo has trouble with the short ball and barely runs, but at least that’s the case in style.
I’d rather promote Moeen, who is now a relatively experienced Test cricketer, to determine his place in the team than back someone like Malan or Ballance. Those two are also likely to have trouble against the short ball. But at least with Moeen’s help, you get a moment of optimism that a hook attempt from the stands has disappeared six times. You know the other two were terrible from the start.
Now, I don’t want to turn this into a “should Root or shouldn’t play 3” debate — we’ve been there and done it many times — but we also need to talk about James Vince. For the sake of argument, let’s say he hits a 3 or a 4.
I want to be clear at this point, I didn’t pick Vince because I thought he was good. He’s obviously not good. In fact, he’s probably no better than the other wild cards masquerading as legitimate hitting options. However, we must keep it real. If there’s one thing that’s undeniable, it’s that Vince is a lot better looking in his early twenties than a crabby Ballance or Maran in his early twenties. In other words, Vince doesn’t embarrass himself at the crease compared to everyone else. Of course, he would have dropped his wicket for an ultimately disappointing result, but at least his innings could have included a nice cover at some point.
The last controversial choice is Mason Crane. My logic for this is simple: Given the likelihood of Australia winning, it would be far less embarrassing if England went down aggressively and riskily rather than passively and predictably.
Normally, English would pick Craig Overton as the fourth bowler over Crane. Why? Because he plays a little bit and doesn’t throw that many globals. But if we do, Australian pranksters will have a better day. “It’s another medium-tempo English pie pinch,” they’ll say. At least Crane’s selection will spark interest in cricket if Australia lead 300-2 in Brisbane on the first afternoon.
So we have it. England’s least embarrassing potential Ashes Eleven. Without the Finn – which could be embarrassing if he suddenly became “unavailable” during the suspension – and without the ball – it was clearly an own goal for the Australian to chant “England has only one goal”.