Five Ashes questions England must answer | cricketnetwork.com

Five Ashes questions England must answer

12 August 2017

England have some questions to answer // Getty

Take a look at England's biggest Ashes concerns they'll be hoping to solve in their series against the West Indies

England's announcement of their Test squad to take on the West Indies has provided the closest indication yet of their plans for their Ashes defence this summer.

But the make-up of their XI for the first Test against Australia in Brisbane in late November is still well and truly up for debate.

Quick single: England swing the axe for Windies series

England made three changes to an extended squad that wrapped up an impressive 3-1 series win against South Africa earlier this week with Chris Woakes returning and uncapped opener Mark Stoneman and young leg-spinner Mason Crane picked for the first time.

But England's selection panel are still facing a number of major questions ahead of their trip down under, which they hope will be answered over the coming weeks.

Who will open the batting?

Keaton Jennings has been sent back to county cricket after he was exposed against the Proteas and Surrey left-hander Mark Stoneman has been given a golden chance against the eighth-ranked West Indies to secure an Ashes spot. Should Alastair Cook's 12th opening partner in five years fail to take his chance, the highly-rated Haseeb Hameed will be the favourite to re-claim the spot for the summer, while coach Trevor Bayliss has left the door open for Jennings - the leading run-scorer in Division One of the County Championship - to return if he finds form.

Mark Stoneman is England's latest opener // Getty
Mark Stoneman is England's latest opener // Getty

Will Tom Westley hold on to the No.3 spot? 

Another position of major concern for England is first drop, but a big score or two against the Windies will surely see Tom Westley claim that spot for the Ashes. The right-hander showed some good signs in his first two Tests, scoring 25 or more in three of his four innings against South Africa, and will likely have all three Tests in this series to push his case further. Should Westley fail to take his chance, calls will again come for Joe Root to move up a spot to No.3, while the likes of Jennings, Hameed or even Gary Ballance may be re-considered.

Westley's debut half-century propels England

Who will bat at No.5? 

Despite just 35 runs in four innings against the Proteas, Dawid Malan has earned a stay of execution for the Windies series and now has a great opportunity to win an Ashes berth.  Big runs against the Windies, who present nowhere near the same challenge as Kagiso Rabada and co, could well secure his spot in the middle order for the Gabba Test, but he's quickly running out of chances. Former opener Alex Hales has found form batting at No.5 in county cricket and is seemingly the next in line should Malan slip up again, while a re-jig of the batting order could instead result in one of Ben Stokes or Jonny Bairstow being elevated to that position for the Australian summer.


Will Toby Roland-Jones hold his spot? 

Despite 10 wickets in his first two Tests, Toby Roland-Jones is in serious danger of losing his place in the XI before England even depart for Australia. The return to fitness of Chris Woakes has earned him a spot in the squad to face the Windies and the highly-rated right-armer looks set to play at some stage in the coming weeks, especially if Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are rested, as has been speculated. Woakes, who took 34 wickets in just six Tests last northern summer and is another handy addition to the lower order, would then likely be in a mini bowl-off against Roland-Jones for a spot alongside Broad and Anderson at The Gabba.

Debutant bags four in searing opening spell

Is there room in the XI for two spinners? 

While playing two slow bowlers in the same side is unusual in Australian conditions, England's depth of allrounders mean they have plenty of scope to do just that in the Ashes. Should they be unable to find a No.5 batsman to fill that gap, allrounders Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali could each move up a spot to No.5, No.6 and No.7 respectively, leaving room for three frontline quicks and another spinner to compliment Ali's off-spin. Mason Crane's call-up to the squad to face the Windies, ahead of 10-Test leggie Adil Rashid, is a clear indication that he's well in the frame for a trip to Australia, where he played a lone Sheffield Shield game for NSW last summer. Whether or not England will opt for a dual-spin attack remains to be seen.

Crane celebrates Test call in style

2017-18 International Fixtures:

Magellan Ashes Series


First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets


Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets


Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets


Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets


Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets


ODI Series v England


First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets


Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets


Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets


Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets


Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF


Prime Minister's XI


PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets


T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series


First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets


Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets


Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets


Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14


Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16


Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18


Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21


About the Writer

 @martinsmith9994
@martinsmith9994

Martin Smith is a writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for Yahoo!7 Sport and Fox Sports.