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Which players should England back and who should they axe after embarrassing Ashes defeat in Australia?


England lost the Ashes inside nine days in Australia (Pictures: Getty)

Steve Harmison believes ‘careers are on the line’ following England’s embarrassing Ashes defeat, but which players should be axed and who still deserve to be backed in the aftermath of Australia’s emphatic victory?

England’s quest to win back the Ashes lasted a little over nine days, with Australia wrapping up three successive victories to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match Test series.

Joe Root’s side have now lost 12 of their last 13 Tests in Australia and set a new record for the most Tests lost in a year. Their batters have been dismissed for 54 ducks in 2021, equalling their own unwanted record from 1998.

Clearly, changes are inevitable but which players should England stick with following the Ashes drubbing and who should be discarded as a new cycle of English cricket begins?

Rory Burns – Back

England fans might not like hearing it but he’s still the best English opener on the circuit. Bowled off the first ball of the series, Burns failed in his four Ashes innings before bring dropped for the third Test. Mitchell Starc took a liking to the unorthodox opener but to think that Hameed or Crawley would fare any better was naive. Burns’ record is mediocre and his technique ugly, but he’s the best England have got, as he has showed by churning out runs in the County Championship since 2012 and averaging almost 50 last summer.

Haseeb Hameed – Drop (for now)

The temptation to recall Hameed last summer was obvious. He delighted fans with a couple of fifties against India back in 2016 and looked back to his best last summer, scoring two tons and four fifties for Nottinghamshire. But given his struggles since making his Test debut – Hameed’s average dropped into single figures in 2018 – he should have been given a whole season, perhaps even two, before coming back into the side. Hameed actually looked okay in the first Test, making 25 and 27, but his last four innings have produced just 13 runs. He could yet become a Test star but he needs to hone his game in county cricket.

Haseeb Hameed has endured a poor Ashes series (Picture: Getty)

Zak Crawley – Drop (for now)

Another player who would benefit from a stint away from the limelight. His 267 against Pakistan in 2020 was astonishing but you can’t live off one innings. A recall for the Boxing Day Test, having not batted in a competitive match since September, seemed almost cruel and his two failures were unsurprising. Crawley averaged 10.81 in 2021 – clearly he needs to rediscover his form away from international cricket.

Dawid Malan – Back

Has scored three half-centuries in five Tests since being recalled last summer and is a reassuring presence at No. 3. Yet to add to his one century, which he made in Australia four years ago, but has been one of England’s most competent batters over the past five months.

Joe Root – Back

The best Test batter in 2021, Root became only the third player in history to break 1,700 Test runs in a calendar year. The only shame is that it did not lead to more wins. While he will of course remain in the team, will it be as captain? Few skippers can suffer back-to-back Ashes thrashings in Australia and keep their jobs, although the lack of alternatives may make the debate moot.

Asked about his future as captain after the Melbourne defeat, Root said: ‘I can’t be selfish and start thinking about myself. I’m in the middle of a very important series. My energy has to be all about trying to win the next game. The series isn’t over yet: we’ve got two very big games and, more than anything, it would be wrong to look past that. That’s all we have to focus on and that applies to me as well, as captain of this team.’

Joe Root enjoyed a brilliant year with the bat in 2021 (Picture: Getty)

Ben Stokes – Back

The excitement over his return was understandable and more than justified but, with hindsight, it was foolish to think an undercooked Stokes could produce more heroics Down Under. He’s made a couple of starts but is yet to reach 35 with the bat, while his enforcer role with the ball hasn’t really worked. That being said, he remains one of England’s most important players – and potentially their next captain.

Ollie Pope – Back

England had little choice but to drop him after the Adelaide Test; he made 13 runs across his last three innings and looked uncomfortable and frenetic against Nathan Lyon. But if Pope – a player who averages 51 in first-class cricket and 100 at The Oval – can’t make it, then there’s little hope for other county players.

Jonny Bairstow – Drop

Like Crawley, Bairstow was dealt a tough hand at the MCG, asked to come in with little to no red-ball form and nullify a formidable pace attack with the Ashes on the line. He was unable to do so, and that could be that for his Test career. In truth, his Test career has been on the decline for a few years. While England must take some blame for his demise, now seems like a reasonable time for Bairstow to step away from red-ball cricket and focus on the shorter formats. After all, he is a brilliant white-ball player and can become a double – or even treble – World Cup winner over the next few years.

Jos Buttler – Drop

Another player who would benefit from focusing on white-ball cricket. Criticism over his keeping and Test batting can be overblown; he is an absolutely fine Test player. But fine performances shouldn’t necessarily keep you in the team and there are other players who could perform better for England (Ben Foakes has half as many centuries as Buttler from 48 less Tests). He is arguably England’s greatest ever one-day player, let him concentrate on that.

Jos Buttler has scored two centuries in 98 Test innings (Picture: Getty)

Chris Woakes – Back

While Woakes is undoubtedly a superb cricketer, there may now need to be an acceptance that he cannot make an impact in certain conditions. Given James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s fitness concerns, Woakes was seen by some as England’s most important bowler ahead of the Ashes, but he struggled to make an impact before being dropped for the third Test. He now averages almost 48 with the ball in Australia and you certainly can’t see him returning in 2025. But in different conditions, he remains a potent seamer and one of England’s few bowlers who can offer something with the bat.

Jack Leach – Drop

If Joe Root and Chris Silverwood do not completely trust and rate Leach – and it appears that that’s the case – then it’s probably time to move on. He was smashed around in Brisbane but still should have played in the second Test. His absence pointed to a lack of faith from those above. An 18-match Test career has had its moments – there were eight wickets in Galle in 2018, 92 with the bat against Ireland at Lord’s and the most memorable 1 not out in history at Headingley in 2019 – but perhaps it’s time to have a look elsewhere.

Ollie Robinson – Back

Few England bowlers have enjoyed a better start to their Test career. Averages just 21 after eight Tests with 37 wickets, nine of which have come Down Under. There’s certainly room for improvement – his fitness and ability to come back for third and fourth spells has been questioned, while he should contribute more with the bat – but Robinson looks set to be a key part of England’s attack over the next few years.

Ollie Robinson has taken 37 wickets from his first eight Tests (Picture: Getty)

James Anderson – Back

Remains a classy operator at the age of 39. Anderson’s 4/33 in Melbourne was brilliant and, according to leg spin legend Shane Warne, his best spell in Australia. He’s coming to the end of his remarkable career but there’s still few better than England’s record wicket-taker. Enjoy him while you still can.

Stuart Broad – Back (for now)

Having missed two of the three Ashes Tests so far, it will be interesting to see if Broad has much of a role to play in the remainder of the series. He was fairly ineffective in Adelaide but Broad averaged less than 15 in 2020 so it would be foolish to write him off. That being said, time is also ticking for the 35-year-old and he will need to deliver if given the opportunity in Sydney or Hobart.

Mark Wood – Back

Used his pace to good effect in Brisbane and Melbourne, knocking over Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne and generally troubling the hosts. His omission in Adelaide was surely a mistake. He is a player who may decide to prioritise white-ball cricket going forward but England need his unique skills in Tests, particularly given the injury blows to fellow fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone.

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