Well, hello. Another Ashes series is down, having been unnecessarily rescheduled. The official reason was given as to avoid a clash with the World Cup, which a 2014-15 series down under could have given rise to. However, there will now be a clash with the 2019 World Cup, and I don't understand why home series were also rescheduled. If 2013-14 could have been a one-off, things would have been better.
Nonetheless, England's selection policy continues to be completely ridiculous, with the Fulham-esque plicy of picking young players for the sake of picking young players. The reason is to create a lot of team stability. The problem is that they often pick players who are too young to be picked. They pick players who aren't good enough because they are simply not ready. Yes, they may develop into great players, but not at the ridiculously young age they're picked. For example, James Anderson, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Nick Compton Moeen Ali... all too young initially. With that in mind, I still echo the comments made by Michael Vaughan 12 months ago - the "spin kids" are not ready, so we should be turning to Gareth Batty.
But on the subject of spin, don't try telling me Moeen Ali's a spin bowler. Somehow he lucked into 12 wickets in the series and ended up as the third-highest English wicket taker. The problem is that this will now, in the eyes of the ECB, mean the issue is sorted, when it really, really isn't. Nathan Lyon took four more wickets than he did - and bear in mind England batted twice less than Australia. The best thing to look at here is the strike rates for Lyon and Ali. Lyon took a wicket every 51 balls in this series (which, in itself, isn't very good), but Ali's was 62 - in other words, a wicket every 10.2 overs. And that's not the sort of form you want from a spin bowler.
Which brings me nicely onto player of the series, Joe Root. He himself managed 4 wickets, easily the best of the part-time bowlers. And he impressed with the bat, too, scoring 460 runs at 57.5 - only Chris Rogers could average higher than that. And only Rogers and Steve Smith could muster more runs. But with Joe Root's bowling showing promise (and with Channel 5 having called him an all-rounder for the last two years) there may come a time when England will come to a pitch such as The Gabba in Brisbane and with a selection conundrum similar to the one Australia faced (quick bowlers), there surely has to be a case for including Mark Wood and Steven Finn, dropping Moeen Ali and using Joe Root as the main spin option?
The selection conundrum faced by Australia at the start of the series appeared to have been solved with the shock retirement of Ryan Harris. Peter Siddle looked certain to miss out anyway, and the Australian public said that they should leave out Mitchell Johnson and go to Cardiff with Starc, Hazlewood, and Harris spearheading the attack (according to a cricket.com.au poll). After Cardiff, it looked like the Aussie public would have made the right decision. Mitchell Johnson (subjected to the now-famous chant "He bowls to the left, he bowls to the riiiiight, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite") had match figures of 41-5-180-2. Yes, really. The issue for Johnson was that the road of a pitch at Cardiff was more condusive to swing movement, as was the case at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Mitchell Johnson has now played 12 tests on English soil (the 2009 and 2015 Ashes series (dropped in 2013) plus a two-test series against Pakistan played on English soil in 2010 which everyone forgets about) and his total figures for tests in England are 355.6-49-1392-38 at 36.63. He averages under 30 in all test matches, and it just goes to show one thing: Mitchell Johnson cannot bowl in England. It really is that simple.
When we went to Cardiff, I criticised Alastair Cook's decision to bat first with some rain in the air, and, truth be told, England capitulated to 30-4. Now, I do absolve Gary Ballance of some of the blame he got, because Adam Lyth is simply a complete failure. Playing with Lyth is like playing with ten batsmen. As a result, Gary Ballance is effectively playing at number two, and he is not an opener. I saw him at The Oval in a game between Surrey and Yorkshire during the third test, and whilst he did make 77, he looked very shaky to start with. Surrey did not take their chances to get him out early (dropped several times) and I don't see him as good enough for England, frankly. He doesn't like to get forward early in his innings. But he still averaged 24.5 in the series, miles better than Lyth, who had the worst average of any Englishman in the series.
Lyth therefore must not be on the tour to the UAE, and returning to the very first point I made in this post, I would pick Steven Davies, Kevin Pietersen, James Tredwell, and Gareth Batty for the tour, except that Steven Davies is banned from the UAE by law. A shame, as he averages 65.75 in the County Championship this year, a figure only bettered by four players who have played at least five innings: Ashwell Prince, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, and Kevin Pietersen. There is a severe lack of batting squad depth at the minute in the middle order, and a middle order of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, and Jos Buttler doesn't fill me with confidence.
Anyway, given a 100% free choice, the squad I'd have for Pakistan is the following:
The most likely will be the following, I think:
Very simply, for my squad, compared with the Ashes squad (all players):
IN: S Davies, A Hales, K Pietersen, J Roy, Z Ansari, G Batty, J Tredwell.
OUT: A Lyth.
For the most likely:
IN: A Hales, E Morgan, J Roy, C Jordan, J Tredwell.
I don't see what Alex Hales and Jason Roy now have to do to get themselves in the side. I reckon England will want to recall Eoin Morgan, who's had ODI success. Other than that, I can't see what I'd do.
For the starting XI, from that squad, I'd go for Cook, Hales, Root, Bell, Pietersen, Stokes, Bairstow, Rashid, Broad, Finn, Anderson. England will certainly opt for Buttler ahead of Bairstow and Ali over Rashid. Bairstow may replace Pietersen in the lineup or it could be Ballance.