How will England line up for final Ashes Test?

Nasser Hussain says Ben Stokes should only play in fifth Ashes Test if he is fully fit; Sam Billings likely to keep wicket with Jos Buttler’s tour over due to a finger injury; will Jack Leach keep his place for the day-night Test – and which seamers will be selected?

Last Updated: 11/01/22 2:54pm

Jonny Bairstow (left) and Ben Stokes (right) are carrying thumb and side injuries respectively ahead of the final Ashes Test in Hobart
Jonny Bairstow (left) and Ben Stokes (right) are carrying thumb and side injuries respectively ahead of the final Ashes Test in Hobart

After a valiant rearguard action at the SCG, England held on for a draw, averted a 5-0 Ashes sweep and head to Hobart with a modicum of positivity.

But on a tour where – until Jimmy Anderson successfully kept out an over of Steve Smith part-time leg-spin – everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, Joe Root’s side must now deal with the possibility of being without a number of the XI that just about denied Australia in Sydney.

Jos Buttler’s absence has already been confirmed while there are concerns over Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow and possibly Mark Wood as well. So, how could England line up for the day-nighter in Tasmania?

Who opens the batting?

Zak Crawley, for sure. The 23-year-old averaged a dreadful 10.81 in 2021 with just five double-figure scores across 16 innings and he began 2022 with a score of 18 in Sydney – which would have been nought had Australia quick Mitchell Starc not bowled a no-ball when the England man edged to slip.

Zak Crawley will open for England is Tasmania - but with whom?
Zak Crawley will open for England is Tasmania – but with whom?

However, Crawley returned to form in style second time around at the SCG, with a fluent and authoritative 77 from just 100 deliveries – the Kent batter falling just 23 runs short of the century he said he “knew full well” he could score before the match. He talked a good game, backed it up and now, according to Nasser Hussain, deserves a long run in the side.

It was the sort of dynamic knock seldom seen from an England opener over recent times – and one Haseeb Hameed has looked unlikely to play during a terribly trying series, with the Nottinghamshire batter bagging six single-figure scores in a row, including two ducks, en route to an average of 10.

Former England opener Nick Compton told Sky Sports News that Hameed has “run his race” – for now, at least. Compton said: “I think Hameed has got some work to do back here in England. It doesn’t mean he can’t come again but at the moment there are some technical issues. I think he has run his race in this series, if we are being honest.”

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Nick Compton has called for Haseeb Hameed to be dropped for the final Ashes Test in Australia suffering his sixth consecutive single-figure score
Nick Compton has called for Haseeb Hameed to be dropped for the final Ashes Test in Australia suffering his sixth consecutive single-figure score

The only realistic option to replace Hameed is Rory Burns – but he has had no cricket since being dropped for Crawley ahead of the third Test at the MCG. That said, Burns can perhaps count himself unfortunate to have been axed when he was having played his best knock of the series, a battling 34, in the second innings of the second Test at the Adelaide Oval.

The left-hander looks likely to return in Hobart – but may need a score of real note to keep that spot for the first Test against West Indies in March.

What’s the injury situation?

We know for sure that Jos Buttler won’t play – the wicketkeeper-batter’s Ashes series is over after sustaining a finger injury while keeping in Australia’s first innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Ben Stokes may play as a specialist batter in the pink-ball Test
Ben Stokes may play as a specialist batter in the pink-ball Test

Sam Billings, having driven 500 miles from Queensland to Sydney to link up with the England team after a Big Bash stint with Sydney Thunder, looks set to take the gloves in Hobart in what will be his Test debut after 58 white-ball appearances for his country – 33 T20s and 25 one-day internationals.

That is despite Ollie Pope stepping in seamlessly for a stricken Buttler in Australia’s second innings at Sydney, claiming a joint-record four catches as a substitute fielder in a Test match.

Pope’s almost-flawless performance – he did shell a tough chance while Usman Khawaja was on 70 – was noted by England assistant coach Graham Thorpe but Billings keeps more regularly and should get the nod.

Jonny Bairstow would be an option to keep in normal circumstances – you feel wicketkeeper-batter is the role he truly desires in the England team and one he may yet win back in the long term.

But after a gruesome blow on the thumb from a Pat Cummins delivery during his first-innings hundred last week, the tourists may be wary of giving him the gloves for now. Should his thumb be okay, though, then Sky Sports expert Hussain would give Bairstow the gig behind the stumps.

Jonny Bairstow scored 113 in Sydney - England's only century of this Ashes series so far
Jonny Bairstow scored 113 in Sydney – England’s only century of this Ashes series so far

Bairstow remains a doubt to even play in the match at all, as does all-rounder and vice-captain Ben Stokes, who suffered a side strain while bowling in the fourth Test before wincing his way through twin fifties.

Should Bairstow and Stokes miss out, Pope and Dan Lawrence are poised to slot into the middle order, although England could potentially play one of Pope or Lawrence and then bring in Chris Woakes or Craig Overton at No 7 – with Billings batting at No 6 – in order to get a fifth frontline bowler into the side. That would, however, lengthen the tail even more.

England are set to be without Stokes’ bowling regardless. The 30-year-old did not turn his arm over after picking up his injury during a spell in Australia’s first innings at Sydney, so him bowling in Hobart looks unlikely, with the tourists surely not wanting to exacerbate the injury.

Stokes could feature as a specialist batter and Anderson told the BBC’s Tailenders podcast that his team-mate “has still got his sights” on playing in Tasmania – but Hussain insists England should not take any risks.

England should not risk Stokes if he is not fully fit, says Sky Sports' Nasser Hussain
England should not risk Stokes if he is not fully fit, says Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain

Hussain told the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast: “I don’t think there is a price of Stokes bowling – and can your valuable asset play just as a batter, grimacing after every ball?

“He would want to, he’ll be desperate to, you know what he is like. But, in football, would a manager start a player who is carrying an injury?

“I don’t think you should in professional sport, however much the lad wants to play. If he is not fit, I would leave him out.”

What about the bowlers?

Jack Leach will be nervously looking over his shoulder as he has often been the fall guy when England have been shorn of Stokes in the past.

It certainly looks Stokes is not going to be able to bowl so then they’ve got the balance of the team problems again. In the past England have fudged a bit, Root’s bowled, they’ve gone with extra seamers and this is when Leach has found himself out of the team. I would actually go in with the three seamers and Leach.

Rob Key

Root’s side frequently played an all-frontline seam attack last summer while Stokes was away from the game nursing a finger injury and prioritising his mental health.

It would be no surprise to see England go that way again in the Hobart day-nighter, with the quartet of pace-bowling spots filled by four of Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes.

That would be harsh on Leach, who bowled the best he has in the series in Sydney, with his four second-innings wickets including that of Steve Smith, and England only have to look back at their previous two pink-ball Tests to see that spin can play a crucial role.

Against India in Ahmedabad in February, 28 of the 30 wickets fell to spin – Root with a staggering career-best 5-8 – while in Adelaide earlier in the Ashes, England omitted Leach on a pitch crying out for a spin bowler.

Pace ace Wood was also bizarrely left out on that flat Adelaide deck but that surely won’t be the case in Hobart as long as he has avoided any lasting damage from the whack on the boot he took while being dismissed lbw by Cummins on the final day in Sydney.

I don’t think you can just see this game through the lens of black and white, statistics and figures, I think Wood has offered a lot more to England than that. England have looked a better attack when he’s in it. He’s had Labuschagne three times, he’s had Smith once and he’s had Warner once so five of his eight wickets have been Australia’s best players, players who have looked jumpy when Wood’s bowled.

Michel Atherton

A cursory glance at Wood’s figures – eight wickets at 37.62 – suggest he has had a so-so series but those numbers do not tell the story.

Wood has bowled with endeavour, electric pace and added a different dimension to England’s attack, dismissing Marnus Labuschagne – the top-ranked batter in men’s Test cricket – three times.

Broad looks a shoo-in after taking his 19th Test five-for – and eighth in Ashes cricket – in Sydney, and Robinson, who remains England’s leading wicket-taker in the series with nine scalps, will expect to return after missing the SCG encounter with a shoulder niggle.

Anderson, at 39, could make way for Robinson after playing three Tests on the bounce, meaning potentially his last act in a Test match in Australia is seeing out the final six deliveries in that nerve-shredding Sydney draw. The final place could come down to Woakes or Leach.

Whatever the make-up of the England XI, the tourists will hope it is strong enough to lead them to a first Test match win in Australia since January 2011. If they fail, it won’t be until 2025 until they get another chance to snap that long winless run.

Source : Sky Sports