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England’s Ashes Squad: Reasons to be cheerful

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Do not despair, fans of the England cricket team. Despite preparation for the 2017-18 Ashes series being considerably disrupted as a result of the Ben Stokes debacle, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. In-fact, I’d go so far as to say that I believe that the squad England are taking Down Under is more than capable of retaining the Ashes urn.

The iconic cricketing broadcaster Jonathan Agnew believes that England’s chances of winning the Ashes will be greatly reduced if Ben Stokes is unable to go to Australia. Such pessimism is natural – Stokes is arguably England’s most talented player, and he can contribute significantly with both bat and ball.

At the other end of the spectrum, some of England’s greatest ever players, including Sir Ian Botham, aren’t too worried about the decision that the ECB comes to regarding Stokes and whether he goes to Australia.

The view of Ian Botham is, in my opinion, particularly significant and one that shows that my optimism about England’s chances is by no means misplaced. For starters, Botham is widely regarded as England’s greatest ever all-rounder. Secondly, the 1981 Ashes series is popularly known as Botham’s Ashes due to his batting and bowling magnificence that almost single-handedly won the urn for England.

England have another all-rounder who has been in excellent form throughout the summer, heading into Australia

Clearly, in the matter of knowing the importance of a great all-rounder, particularly when it comes to winning an Ashes series, Ian Botham is something of an expert. His calmness at the prospect of being without Stokes in Australia is therefore very revealing.

Maybe part of the reason Botham is so at ease with the idea of a squad without Stokes is that England have another all-rounder who has been in excellent form throughout the summer, heading into Australia.

This summer, Moeen Ali has been an absolute revelation. Against South Africa, he became the first player to score more than 250 runs and take more than 25 wickets in a four match Test series. He also took a hat-trick during the series, becoming the first since 1958 to end a Test with a hat-trick. He was named player of the series for the One Day Internationals against the West Indies as well.

Overall, he has been heroic with bat and ball this summer in short and long formats and there’s no reason why he can’t continue this success during the Ashes, even factoring in Australia’s tendency to favour leg spinners.

Jimmy Anderson, despite now being 35 years of age, is playing some of the best cricket of his life

Another reason why Botham may be as optimistic as I am about England’s chances in Australia is that the talismanic Jimmy Anderson, despite now being 35 years of age, is playing some of the best cricket of his life.

In the recent test series against the West Indies, Anderson became a member of an extremely exclusive club when he took his 500th test wicket. This summer, Anderson has taken 39 wickets across seven test matches at an average of 14.1. These numbers are quite remarkable and England’s Ashes squad is strengthened considerably with the inclusion of arguably the best bowler in world cricket today.

As an individual, the man is a wonderfully special cricketer, the best England have had for a long time

When highlighting reasons to be optimistic about England’s chances in the 2017-18 Ashes series, we need to mention the man who will be leading England and of whom English fans should be more hopeful than any other member of the squad.

I’m talking, of course, about Joe Root. In his first innings as test captain, Root scored 190 runs. This summer, he also equalled the record for most consecutive test match fifties and became the top run-scorer in international matches in a calendar year in England, scoring 1278 runs. As an individual, the man is a wonderfully special cricketer, the best England have had for a long time. As a captain, he has showcased his daring and exciting style of captaincy throughout the summer.

This was most evident in Root’s desire to force a victory with his early declaration at Headingley against the West Indies. Although ultimately unsuccessful, it was a glimpse into Root’s ambitious and exciting captaincy, that is well suited for 21st century cricket.

It’s also more than worth noting amidst the negativity of the squad announcement and the Stokes situation, that Root has actually won two out of two series in the process. With such a man at the helm, why not be optimistic about winning the Ashes?

One thing that Sir Ian Botham did specifically highlight as a reason for his optimism about England’s chances Down Under was that Australia simply aren’t very strong themselves at the moment. With the exception of captain Steve Smith and opener David Warner, Australia have no truly proven test batsmen at present.

Add this to the fact that three of Australia’s big pacemen – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson – will be returning for the Ashes after injuries and consequently time away from the harsh spotlight of test cricket and you have a severely weakened Australian side. In fact, this may be one of the weakest Australian sides England will have had to face in a long time.

England have a core of proven world class test cricketers in their ranks covering both batting and bowling who will be facing off against a slightly weakened Australia 

Forget about Ben Stokes. Forget about the questionable inclusions including the likes of James Vince, Gary Balance and Mason Crane. Think about Alastair Cook, Chris Woakes and Jonny Barstow. England have a core of proven world class test cricketers in their ranks covering both batting and bowling who will be facing off against a slightly weakened Australia.

For an England cricket fan, it doesn’t get any better than beating the Aussies in an Ashes series and despite the prevailing doom and gloom there’s every chance that they’ll do it this time around. So England fans, be optimistic and really get behind this squad because I truly believe the urn is coming home!

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