Where do England go from here and predicted team for next Ashes series
After a thrilling and turbulent series, it is Australia who still hold the Ashes.
England may have squared the series at 2-2 after winning the fifth and final Test, but that was after Australia had taken an unassailable lead to retain the urn for another two years.
And yet, following the incredible World Cup triumph earlier in the summer, it is an outcome that many England fans will be content with.
The urn still belongs to Australia, but at least they didn’t actually beat us. At least an Australia team boasting one of the best batsmen of all time, and a quite brilliant pace attack, didn’t actually win the series.
Some will say those fans ought to expect and want more from their Test team, but England deserve credit for going toe-to-toe with the old enemy and salvaging a draw from a series in which they have often been on the back foot.
From Steve Smith’s centuries to Ben Stokes’ heroics, it has – above all – been an exciting and entertaining series, one that will not be forgotten any time soon.
But now the dust is beginning to settle on the 2019 Ashes, a significant question must be asked: where do England go from here?
Appoint Bayliss’ replacement
The first task facing the ECB is to appoint a new head coach, with Trevor Bayliss bowing out following the final Ashes Test. We have known about his departure for a while and choosing the right successor will be key with England’s red and white-ball teams going in opposite directions.
Bayliss secured his place in English cricket history when he and Eoin Morgan inspired the stunning World Cup triumph earlier this summer, but he leaves with the England set-up in a mixed state.
While England’s one-day champions are a glorious and thrilling bunch of record-breakers, the Test side are still striving for consistency and, in truth, have stagnated under Bayliss.
Bayliss’ phlegmatic and hands-off approach has enabled England to realise their true potential and ultimately rule the world in white-ball cricket, but that same man-management has left England wanting in the Test arena.
Players like Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow have suffered dramatic dips in form during the latter stages of Bayliss’ reign and the incoming coach will have to find a way to get the best out of a number of players who are underperforming in Test cricket.
So who will England go for? Last month England director Ashley Giles confirmed he had informally sounded out potential candidates, with South Africans Mickey Arthur and Gary Kirsten and former England coach Ottis Gibson all believed to be in the running.
England fans will remember Arthur as the man who led South Africa to an impressive Test victory on these shores in 2008, and the coach who helped Pakistan win the Champions Trophy here two years ago.
The 51-year-old has shown interest in the role in the past and is available after being axed – somewhat harshly – by Pakistan following the World Cup.
Gibson, who also lost his job after this summer’s showpiece event, said he was ‘happy to be linked with’ England in May. A respected and likeable figure, with experience working for the ECB, Gibson could be seen as the frontrunner for the role.
England are not thought to be giving much thought to the idea of hiring two coaches – one for the team’s white-ball commitments and one for Test cricket – so they need to identify a figure who they believe can challenge the one-day side after their World Cup win while improving the red-ball team.
Resolve captaincy issues
That was Ben Stokes’ emphatic response when asked whether he and his teammates were fully behind England captain Joe Root following the drawn Ashes series.
Root is a popular figure in the England dressing room and undoubtedly a world-class batsman, but few captains get a third chance to win the Ashes. In truth, not even the great captains of the game could have led England to victory in this Ashes or the previous series Down Under.
Australia have simply been better or on par with Root’s side. So, rather than questioning whether Root is capable of captaining England to an Ashes victory, the question to ask is whether being captain is hindering Root’s chances of helping England win back the urn.
Root, primarily in the team as a batsman, has now failed to score a century in the last two Ashes series. This summer, concerned by England’s fragile batting line-up and hoping to lead from the front, he moved up to number three.
Attempting to put a stop to the familiar batting collapses before they had even begun, Root scored four fifties at an average of just over 30. Not a disastrous return, by any means. But short of what he would expect to contribute.
The theory that he could and would score more runs without the weight of captaincy on his shoulders is not an unpopular one amongst England fans.
However, with no obvious replacement waiting in the wings, Root looks set to continue as skipper for the foreseeable future, and confirmed he wanted to return to Australia as the leader of the team.
‘Absolutely. I am very much driven towards that,’ said Root when asked whether he wanted to lead England into the 2021-22 Ashes.
‘We have got two-and-a-half years to prepare very well for it. I think it has to be a real focus for English cricket to do everything we can to be in the best possible space for that.
‘I want to be at the front of that, I want to be leading it and hopefully be the man to bring the Ashes back to England.’
Outgoing coach Bayliss also still sees Root as the ideal candidate. He said during his final Test: ‘I think Joe is getting better all the time.
‘And some of the guys he’s got with him are going be important: people like [vice-captain] Ben Stokes. Right now I can’t see too many others that would suit the job. But those two together can take this team forward.’
If, as expected, Root remains captain, England must at least look to resolve the issue over where he bats. Promoting himself was a selfless and honourable move but England need Root back to his best, and that will be more easily attained if he bats where he feels most comfortable.
Rather than ask Root to plug holes, build the team around him, as Australia have with Steve Smith and India have with Virat Kohli.
Be ruthless and brave
If England are unsure whether a player has a future in their Test team – and it seems like they are – they should ask themselves whether the person in question will help the team win back the Ashes in 2021.
That, after all, is the team’s long-term goal. For too long players have just done enough to retain their place in the side for another game, another series, without producing match-defining innings or spells.
It would be tempting, for example, to pencil Joe Denly in as England’s opening batsman for the winter tours to New Zealand and South Africa. And perhaps after scoring three fifties in his last five innings – including a 94 which laid the foundations for England’s Ashes-levelling win – he deserves another go.
But that should only be the case if England believe Denly can help England win back the urn Down Under. In other words: think long-term.
The same can be applied to Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, two supremely talented players who have underwhelmed this summer. Reputations can only get you so far and there are a number of talented batsmen in county cricket who may have what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
The names of Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes have been thrown around this summer but those players, however talented, will need time and support to develop into Test cricketers. And their development, for England’s sake, should start sooner rather than later.
Predicted England team for 2021-22 Ashes
Rory Burns – Surrey
Has shown enough in this Ashes series – against Australia’s brilliant pace attack – to suggest he can enjoy a long and successful career as an England opener. Could even emerge as an England captain, having led Surrey to the County Championship title before breaking into the Test side.
Dominic Sibley – Warwickshire
Was overlooked by England this summer – with Jason Roy instead offered a chance to nail down the opening slot – but has long been touted as a future Test opener. Became the first player to reach 1,000 County Championship runs in Division One this season.
Zak Crawley – Kent
Like Sibley, Crawley is also expected to be part of England’s winter tours after a summer in which he scored two centuries and five fifties for Division One new-boys Kent. Showed promise for England Lions in a first-class match against an Australian XI in July and, at the age of 21, will only get better.
Joe Root (c) – Yorkshire
Revealed his ambition to lead England into the next Ashes series after the fifth Test and he appears odds-on to fulfil that goal, not least because of the lack of suitable replacements. Hopefully batting at number four, behind a more solid top-three, Root could enjoy his most prolific Ashes series for some time and end his long wait for a century against the old enemy.
Ben Stokes – Durham
As one of the best players in the world and one of the most talented players England has ever produced, the only question is what role will Stokes be performing by the time of the next Ashes? Due to injuries and the gruelling nature of the summer, his bowling has taken a back seat in recent months. Luckily, he is more than good enough to play as a specialist batsman. Could be batting anywhere in England’s top-five.
Ollie Pope – Surrey
Rated by many as the best player currently playing county cricket. Averaging over 100 in Division One this season – albeit with a small sample size – and 65 in first-class cricket overall. Showed promise in two Tests against India last summer and already has two first-class double centuries to his name. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
Ben Foakes (wk) – Surrey
Often hailed by Alec Stewart as the best wicketkeeper in the country, Foakes has already played ten Tests for England and scored a century on debut against Sri Lanka. Is already putting pressure on Jonny Bairstow but could be an even better player in 2021.
Sam Curran – Surrey
England do not appear able to lose Test matches when Surrey’s dynamic left-arm pace bowler is picked in the team. Impressed on Ashes debut this week, taking three wickets to swing the game in England’s favour, and could have a long international career ahead of him. Will find things trickier in less helpful conditions but there is still more to come from the youngster.
Jofra Archer – Sussex
Bowled with great skill and serious pace during the Ashes, finishing the series as the third leading wicket-taker despite not featuring in the opening Test. Possesses all the attributes required to develop into one of England’s finest pace bowlers and will relish bowling on Australia’s fast and bouncy pitches.
Olly Stone – Warwickshire
Can became a regular in England’s Test team if he manages to stay fit. Showed his talent on Test debut earlier in the summer against Ireland, taking three wickets in a rapid burst, and was expected to play some part in the Ashes before breaking down with injury. Will be a handful Down Under.
Stuart Broad – Nottinghamshire
One last hurrah for the England and Ashes legend. Raises his game against Australia and his influence this summer – taking 22 wickets and destroying Australia’s left-handers – should not be forgotten. Time is not on his side but he still looks fit and may now outlast James Anderson, whose contribution to this series was just three overs on the very first morning.