Shoulda, coulda, woulda – five things England got wrong ahead of the 2017-18 Ashes

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Australia win the final Test (BT Sport)

We were originally going to present this article as being the views of Captain Hindsight, but when we started to write it we realised that half of England’s problems were actually fairly easy to see in advance.

So while some of what follows comes with the benefit of knowing how things panned out, that’s not true of all of it. Whether or not the sum of all these things would have made any difference to the end result is of course another matter.

Shoulda dropped Moeen Ali

Moeen Ali is a player of top innings rather than being a top batsman. Even before this series, his Test average was only 34.66. That’s pretty good for someone who bowls, but not really enough to warrant a place in the top six, which is where he found himself come the first Test.

Based on what followed, Moeen would have been batting a place too high had he come in at number nine. Craig Overton and Tom Curran averaged more than him, Stuart Broad managed a higher score, and you can’t imagine Gary Ballance would have bowled any less effectively.

We love Moeen, but things wouldn’t have turned out much differently for England had they instead picked a specialist fielder.

Coulda done more to discourage Ben Stokes’ boozy late nights out

Michael Vaughan said Ben Stokes had been given ‘strong warnings’ about his lifestyle even before that night in the cells. It wasn’t like England should have locked him in his room each night, but could they not at least have persuaded him to refrain from going out on the lash in the middle of a series?

Who knows whether some other incident might have happened subsequently, but even a slight change in behaviour might have been enough to avoid the Bristol incident.

Shoulda tried out some quicker bowlers in the preceding years

Craig Overton dismisses Steve Smith (via BT Sport)

Our article about Toby Roland-Jones’ Test debut was essentially a veiled question: ‘Why have you picked a right-arm 80mph bowler when we’re touring Australia this winter?’

Plenty of similarly pedestrian right-armers followed. We’d sort of assumed that there was a minimum pace requirement for young seam bowlers, as this seems to have been an unstated part of the job description for as long as we can remember. When did this cease to apply?

People watch Jimmy Anderson bowling at 80-85mph and hope that younger bowlers operating at a similar clip might gradually develop his skills. But that isn’t the way it worked for Jimmy. He could bowl at 90mph in his first few seasons. The increased skill has compensated for the decrease in speed. He never entered a Test match with neither.

Craig Overton, Tom Curran and Jake Ball are about a tenth as skilful as Jimmy Anderson and don’t really have much to make up the shortfall. Overton and Ball have height, Curran has a slower ball, but England’s attack is so monochrome, this really isn’t enough.

Faster English bowlers do still exist. Either they’re not sufficiently valued or not especially well-managed.

Coulda picked Adil Rashid

England were never going to play Mason Crane until the series was already lost. When they did, he performed about as effectively as you’d imagine a 20-year-old debutant leg-spinner would.

It’s great that England seem to have identified him as one for the future and that they’re keen to invest in him, but they also identified Adil Rashid as one for the future a long time ago and despite his being top wicket-taker last winter, they ceased investing in him immediately before this Ashes series.

You have to try and recoup investments. Test experience is a finite resource. This whole thing just seemed so wasteful.

Shoulda picked someone other than James Vince

James Vince drives (BT Sport)

A flirtation with run-scoring in the first Test might have encouraged some to think otherwise, but this really isn’t hindsight, is it?

It was so obvious we actually titled September’s Ashes squad post England to win the Ashes via airy off-side drives.

James Vince’s first stint in the Test team ended because he didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind. Having underscored the fact that his record in the first division of the County Championsship is really rather mediocre through his efforts during the 2017 season, the selectors brought him back at number three for the Ashes.

He didn’t score any runs and kept edging behind.


If you’re England in Australia, chances are you’re going to lose anyway. You are not going to improve your odds by spending the years leading up to the series doing a load of things that everyone in the world can see are manifestly wrong.

Also, you should have added Paul Collingwood to the squad.


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  1. Yeah. Everybody kept hoping those “in the know” knew something we didn’t…but we now know that they didn’t. Know. Who knew?! Nothing new there.

    Looking from the outside, it appears a bit like everybody’s much more relaxed and happy nowadays than under Andy Flower during the later “Downfall bunker scene” days of his regime, but ultimately, they are all still succumbing to this delusional, overly-positive “group think” view of the world – which negatively influences selection/decision-making. So, you end up with behaviour which smacks of “if you say to yourself that James Vince will come good enough times, it will become true.” Except objective reality (provided in this instance by the Australian cricket team) seems to expose this kind of thinking as, well, tripe quite often.

    Why does this keep happening? Why can’t they see what’s obvious to everyone else? And most importantly, why am I repeating the main point expressed more eloquently in KC’s post?!

      1. George Dobell has a tendency to over-egg the pudding in his pieces, but sadly I have to agree with him unequivocally on this piece.

        Daisy is chuntering like a pub snug bore about the conditions under which and pitches upon which English first class cricket is played. If for no other reason than to stop Daisy ranting, that aspect of the problem needs putting right pdq.

  2. I’d be interested to see a list of all the hotly-tipped (and lukewarmly-tipped) young seamers and their typical bowling speed.

    Promising spinners and batsmen often get reams of hype over a period of months/years before being picked for the Test side, but I don’t seem to recall anything similar for out-and-out fast bowlers.

    1. We were a bit distracted this summer. Have older quicks like Stuart Meaker and Mark Footitt been getting Lions games and are they still quick?

      1. I don’t think either are in the latest Lions squad, and I haven’t seen enough County Cricket this year to know if anyone is still quick, really.

        I did see that Glen Chapple is joining the Lions coaching squad. Maybe he’ll get a game if all they young ‘un pick up knee-knack.

      2. That should probably read “all the young ‘uns”, but I admit that’s not much better.

      3. Mark Footitt’s not been getting Notts games, let alone Lions games. Knackered neck, I think.

  3. Except the “someone other than James Vince” would have been Gary Ballance, who seems to have come along on a nice holiday because he’s Root’s mate.

    So, wholesale changes for NZ, or leave things as they are and see how well these guys do against Boult, Southee and TGNW?

  4. One of the joys of watching a sport is that the outcome should have an element of uncertainty. Yes, on average, the better team should win, but we love an element of the unexpected.

    I can’t think of another game where home advantage counts for so much. India, the number one ranked test team are touring England this summer. They will lose.

    I think (thanks to captain hindsight) that England were always going to lose this tour and agree wholeheartedly with the points made but would like to add a shoulda.

    Shoulda got the ICC to do something about the level of home advantage that seems to be prevalent in the modern test game.

      1. The seam attack might be competitive but our batsmen are not equipped to handle the playing conditions. Yesterday’s performance against SA was indicative of how the rest of the year might turn out.

      2. That might help, but they’ll still struggle overall in SA and England. I doubt they’ll make 400 once in the next 7 tests.

        Rahul was the only one in the top 6 who wasn’t in the team that toured England in 2014. It’s not like they have played a lot more in seaming conditions since then. That series ended with 5 consecutive innings below 200. Do you think they’ll fare any better against Anderson than they did against Philander?

        Even the bowling line-up is more or less the same as the one from 2014 (Bumrah for Ishant, which may not last). Cook will be looking forward to facing them. As much as it hurts to say this, England’s matches against Pakistan will probably be more challenging than India in the coming summer.

        India are brilliant in home conditions, but will struggle to get a positive result in SA or England. Sometime between the 2nd and 3rd test by which time they would have spent almost two months on the road, they will give up on any pretence of competing.

  5. Maybe shoulda picked a coach who watches county cricket?

    And as much as I like seeing anyone from Leicestershire even tangentially involved in the England team (Broad does not count), I have to wonder how James Whitaker still has a job.

    But on this tour, even with Stokes, I just can’t see an England attack bowling Aus out twice, and I can’t see how sticking a couple of other random batsmen (Livingstone, Hameed) in would have made any difference. Rashid would have done no better than Moeen.

  6. If I knew anything about cricket, and I don’t, I would say that for the next Ashes we have to have two bowlers who can bowl faster than 90mph.

      1. Excellent – I’d always wondered what Prince Prefab might look like.

        I had a mental imagining of the look. Frankly, the diagrammatic rendering is eerily similar to my imagining.

        Now I learn that the diagram is an accurate likeness.

        That goes beyond eerie…that’s seriously spooky in my book.

        It now almost feels like I know you, PP.

    1. It couldn’t, by definition, have been the wild shits as he entered the field of play and did things. The wild shits is not an area where mind-over-matter is an option.

      This was somewhere between mild and wild but with other symptoms thrown in too. He did appear to be decidedly unwell, which is partly why we haven’t been joking about it.

      1. It was initially reported as dehydration , which I guess is technically correct. My mates speculated that our old club captain had somehow been employed by English cricket to manage their hydration – the man was notorious for berating players if they took even a sip of water outside the scheduled drinks break in 40c weather.

  7. This is a misleading title – typical clickbait. Didn’t spot a single “woulda”.

    1. There’s one right there.

      There, in the comments. January 9, 2018.

      It was actually commentbait.

  8. Could(a) we do any worse than giving Jofra Archer a go? The name doesn’t seem to have been bandied around as much as other candidates, but seems a fine prospect and has been bowling well (and proper fast) for Hobart in the BBL. Can bat a bit too.

    1. Would you say he’s been first among equals in the BBL, Mike? He’s flown under the radar a bit for me, is he England’s best kept secret? Although he’s attracted a lot of attention from the fourth estate recently, he might be one of the twelve red herrings that usually accompany any discussion about county players who could make the jump up to the Test team.

      He’s sure to earn a decent amount in the IPL though, I’d guess at £200k, not a penny more, not a penny less.

      I’ll stop now in case anyone thinks I’ve actually read any of those books.

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