Who will make the leap from England’s Lions squad to Ashes squad?
The first Ashes test match is just around the corner and England’s preparations are underway although somewhat hindered by the Australian weather.
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England will play their first Ashes test in December and hope to win back the urn that has been in Australian hands since 2018.
Ben Stokes has made a return to the England camp after a three and a half month absence in which he prioritised his mental health and recovering from a left-index finger injury.
As soon as the squad was announced, Chris Silverwood and Joe Root made it very clear that there would be an opening for Stokes to return to the team if he so wished and not long after the initial reveal of the squad, the all-rounder confirmed he was fit and ready to pick up a bat and ball again.
England’s test squad has been far from a perfect story over recent years and there were many questions raised when certain names were selected for the 2021/22 Ashes squad. However, England’s Lions squad are accompanying the first team on their tour and there is even more depth and talent that can be explored with the probability that many names will make the jump from Lions squad to the England XI before too long.
Somerset’s Tom Abell could see himself to be a strong contender to make the cross from Lions squad to First XI if the Ashes batting line up proves to be as inconsistent as might be expected.
Zak Crawley was a name that surprised many English fans as having made it into the Ashes lineup. His 2021 test average is currently sitting at 11.14 and in his seven matches, he has only made 156, 53 of which came in one innings.
Crawley first solidified himself within the test squad after an incredibly impressive 267 during England’s 2020 Test series against Pakistan, however he has since done little of note and even less that would suggest he will make an impression down under.
Abell became one of the youngest county championship captains in 2017 and his youth initially seemed to show when half way through the season Somerset were 29 points away from any security of staying in Division One and Abell’s own form was dramatically decreasing.
However, on the final day of the season, Somerset escaped relegation and Abell’s batting average had stabilised to 26.
The Taunton based batsman’s ability to turn the season around so miraculously highlighted his resilience and competitive intent that would be crucial in the England camp when facing such opponents as the Aussies in their own backyard.
Abell is currently sitting on a first class average of 33.01 and if he were to make strong starts for the Lions, he could well see himself moving closer to facing Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood.
Despite the crisis with England’s batsmen, England’s talented pool of bowlers seems never ending and whenever a selection is made it always seems cutting that certain names have been left off the list.
Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood is certainly one of those names. Mahmood has been on the parameters of the England dressing room for years and began to really take charge during England’s ODI series against Pakistan in 2021 when the first team were all forced to isolate. England’s ‘third XI’ came out to play and absolutely thrashed the visiting side much to everyone’s surprise.
Mahmood took nine wickets in the three matches with an average of 13.33. In test format, Mahmood has yet to make it to the England squad but his work for Lancashire has been notable. He has an average of 26.60 and 70 wickets in 24 matches to his name.
He will be a force to be reckoned with on the Lions tour but it unfortunately only seems feasible that he will make his way to the first XI if Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes or Ollie Robinson sustain injuries.
Much like Mahmood, Ben Foakes has been circling around the England camp for years and has been allowed to tip his toe into the main pool only a few times.
Faokes has long been known in the cricketing world as being one of the best wicket keepers on the circuit and his lightning reactions have served Surrey and England well.
With Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope all in the main camp it may be hard to imagine that Foakes would get another entry back to face the Aussies just yet but his would be an exceptionally safe pair of hands if England were to need them.
Foakes scored a beautiful hundred on his England debut against Sri Lanka in 2018 and has 410 runs to his name in eight matches for his country.
While his average is only just below that of Jos Buttler - 31.53 to Buttler’s 33.33 - Foakes would have much more to prove in the batting department if he were to ever take over the gloves full time from Buttler or Bairstow.
Former England captain Alec Stewart has referred to Foakes as the best wicketkeeper in the world and it seems a mighty disappointment that once again, England are without his skillset behind the wicket.
Where is Liam Livingstone?
Another Lancashire man, Liam Livingstone, is currently missing out from his Ashes experience. However, Livingstone was controversially also left out of the Lions squad.
His omission from the Ashes squad led fans to quickly assume that Ben Stokes would soon be back in action, but there was then horror when the allrounder was left out of the entire travelling party.
While Livingstone has notably thrived much more in T20 cricket in recent times, earning himself man of the tournament at this year’s inaugural the Hundred tournament, the talent he has produced in the England squad as well seems ludicrous to waste when choosing a side to face England’s biggest rivals.
Livingstone’s overall first-class average (38.36) is higher than everyone in the England camp apart from Joe Root, Bairstow, Rory Burns and Pope.
At the World Cup T20, he was a crucial matchmaker in the middle overs for England, taking key wickets at decisive moments.
The 28 year old’s hard hitting and dominance on the pitch will be greatly missed and fans may still yet hope that he becomes a last minute call-out half way through the tour.
The Lions’ tour will also showcase the talent of leg spinner Matty Parkinson and fast bowler Brydon Carse who will be given the opportunity to make their claims for the Ashes squad but with almost too many bowlers for the number of spaces, their chances of an Ashes tour may be held back another season.
England play their first test against Australia on 8 December at the Gabba in Brisbane
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