England have plumped for the potential of Ollie Pope over the experience of Jonny Bairstow for tonight’s First Ashes Test in Sydney, while Stuart Broad and Jack Leach compete for the final place in the XI.
While Australia named their team – which features a new captain, Pat Cummins, and a debutant wicketkeeper, Alex Carey – four days out from the First Test, England have kept their cards close to their chests.
The final XI will not be named until the toss at the Gabba, but they slimmed their squad of 18 down to 12 today, confirming that Jimmy Anderson will miss out to prepare for the pink ball Test in Adelaide next week.
Anderson has a poor record at the Gabba, and has had a calf niggle since earlier in the tour which has made England wary of overburdening his 39-year-old body. Nevertheless, they say he is fit to play and he bowled another long spell in the nets today.
Chris Woakes will replace him in the XI, alongside Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson – neither of whom have played a Test in Australia before.
With Ben Stokes batting at No5, the final position in the attack will come down to conditions: either Broad’s seam or Leach’s spin.
Haseeb Hameed retains his position at the top of the order over Zak Crawley, meaning the only doubt over the batting this week has been the No6 position, a battle between Pope and Bairstow.
Bairstow is on his third Ashes tour and has a century in Perth in 2017 to his credit, but has struggled in recent times, averaging just 21 in the last three years, with particular concerns against the straight ball. He returned to the Test side against India in the summer, was involved in some important partnerships, but failed to kick on to a big score. Still, he looked in fine touch and was due to keep his place – ahead of Pope – for the postponed final Test of the summer at Old Trafford.
That status quo looked likely to remain in place for the First Test in Australia, until last week’s two paltry days of practice in Brisbane. Pope only made 27 for the Lions, but Bairstow was dismissed twice for 11 runs the following day, and is said to have been outperformed by the younger man in the nets.
Pope is yet to live up to his abundant promise, but was impressive in South Africa two years ago, and should have the game to suit Australian conditions.
England XI: Burns, Hameed, Malan, Root (c), Stokes, Pope, Buttler (wk), Woakes, Robinson, Wood Leach, Broad