Ashes: England still undecided as Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow vie for final spot in Boxing Day Test team

·2-min read
Ashes: England still undecided as Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow vie for final spot in Boxing Day Test team

England were on Friday mulling whether to hand the final place in their batting order for the Boxing Day Test to the incumbent Ollie Pope or Jonny Bairstow.

England are set to name an XI or squad of 12 on Christmas Day, and it will feature changes from the loss in Adelaide which sent them 2-0 down in the series and has sparked a heated dressing room debate.

Zak Crawley is set to replace Rory Burns at the top of the order, while England are set to recall Mark Wood’s pace and believe spin will have a role to play, meaning a recall for Jack Leach looks likely.

The bowling attack is likely to comprise James Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Wood, Leach, and Ben Stokes. Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes would therefore drop out.

England must decide whether to persist with Pope, who at 23 has an excellent first-class record but appears to be becoming something of an unfulfilled talent. He averages less than 30 after 22 Tests, and has struggled with Nathan Lyon this series.

Lyon should not pose the same problems to veteran Bairstow, although he has had difficulty against pace bowling in recent years, when his Test form has dipped.

The signs at a long training session on Friday suggested they were leaning towards Bairstow, who they favoured in the summer.

Crawley averages just 11 from seven Tests this year, when he struggled against Sri Lanka and India’s left-arm spinners on turning Asian pitches.

Perhaps more instructive were his encouraging performances in South Africa at the start of 2020, a year in which he averaged 52, including a stunning 267 against a Pakistan attack featuring plenty of pace.

Burns, aged 31 and averaging 31 after 31 Tests, is set to be dropped and is unlikely to have too many complaints after a series which he started disastrously – being bowled by Mitchell Starc – and never fully recovered.

It was a tricky call between him and Haseeb Hameed, who played promisingly in Brisbane and poorly in Adelaide, over who was dropped, but England have stuck with the younger man who has had fewer opportunities and they believe to possess a higher ceiling.

Dismal losses in Brisbane and Adelaide have left England requiring a miracle to win the Ashes for the first time since 2015. Only Don Bradman’s Australians of 1936/37 have won the Ashes from 2-0 down, which is why England feel now is the time to act.

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