Australia vs England Boxing Day Test, team news, squads, selection, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jonny Bairstow

England is spiralling towards an Ashes whitewash and will need to overcome 85 years of history if it is to stage a miraculous recovery down under.

The Don Bradman-led Australian side of 1936-37 was the last to come back from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series.

That is the daunting reality facing Joe Root’s England this summer and unless changes are made, that hill will only become harder to climb.

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A report from The Evening Standard on Thursday claimed England are considering four changes revolving around its top order, bowling set-up and a struggling middle-order batter.

Here, looks at three of the big selection dilemmas facing the Poms ahead of the third Test.

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It all starts — and too often comes undone — for England at the top of the order.

Zak Crawley is poised for an England recall ahead of the Boxing Day Test, with openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed in the firing line.

A 34-run stand from Burns along with Hameed’s promising early form at the Gabba could be enough of a reason to give the duo another crack at the top.

But the series is on the line at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and England simply cannot make the same mistakes.

That includes sticking with the struggling duo, who have been unable to combine to put England in a dominant position and in turn left the heavy lifting to Joe Root.

That has only eased the pressure on the Australian attack, with Geoffrey Boycott calling the pair “walking wickets” earlier this week.

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Zak Crawley is on the verge of a recall. (Photo by Alastair Grant/Pool via Getty Images)
Zak Crawley is on the verge of a recall. (Photo by Alastair Grant/Pool via Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The numbers back up that claim too.

England has had 27 opening partnerships in Tests this year, managing to get past 30 runs without losing a wicket on just six occasions.

They have failed to get past five runs without giving up a wicket 13 times.

“It’s time we accepted that our batsmen are not good enough,” Boycott wrote in The UK Telegraph.

“The two openers are walking wickets and the Aussie bowlers are queuing up to get at them,” Boycott wrote in The UK Telegraph.

“We compliment Rory Burns for his determination and strength of character but that can’t make up for an awful technique.

“He just looks ugly with his feet and arms all over the place.”

While England is in desperate need of a change, Crawley is no guarantee to be an instant success.

He was dropped for Hameed after the opening Test against India in August and averaged 11 in Test cricket this year.


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Crawley’s 2020 campaign was far more promising though, with the highlight a 267-run statement against Pakistan.

Unlike Burns, Crawley’s technique works in his advantage too as it is well-suited for Australian conditions.

Shane Warne said as much back in September, telling The MirrorCrawley could be a “real key” for England at the top of the order because of how well he plays the short ball.

He was backed up by England cricket great Michael Vaughan, who in August wrote in The UK Telegraphthat Crawley’s game “is suited to playing fast bowling in Australia”.

Former England spinner Monty Panesar said coach Chris Silverwood could be replaced as coach should he make the wrong call.

“I’m not sure if Rory Burns has the technique to adjust to these Australian pitches, whereas Zak Crawley has the attacking approach, which paired with the defensive style of Haseeb Hameed, would work really well,” Panesar told Reuters.

“These are the decisions that have to be made and if Chris Silverwood gets it wrong for a third time, then I think people will start questioning whether he’s the right man to lead England as head coach.”

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Will Rory Burns miss out? (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Not everyone agrees that Burns is the simple choice to drop out though.

“I’d leave Hameed out, he looks fidgety,” former England fast bowler Steve Harmison said, speaking on behalf of Genting Casino.

“He left the ball really well in Brisbane, but his low hands get him into trouble and he might be a horses-for-courses player that plays in subcontinent conditions – just like we have with Dawid Malan playing well in Australia.”

If Burns is given another chance, Ian Bell warns this may be the 31-year-old’s final opportunity to prove he belongs in the Test side.

“I don’t think there will be a change at the opening just yet,” he said on the ‘Inside Edge’.

“It sort of feels to me, it might be harsh, but Burns has got this series — he is playing for his career I think. At 31, he needs to get a performance in otherwise you think we’ve got to start again.

“That brings Crawley back in. Hameed has looked decent, technically he’s looked OK. But again it comes back to output and what runs you get.

“I think they’ll have to look at this massively and put a lot of investment into an opening partnership. It’s a big three games for his [Burns] career.”


Another key decision England will have to make revolves around its bowling set-up.

While he did not go as far as to encourage the Poms to pick a spinner for the Boxing Day Test, MCG curator Matt Page is confident the pitch will produce a result.

Page did admit that “it doesn’t spin massive” and that “we rely on that seam movement early”.

Seam movement a feature for Boxing Day | 01:05

England is expected to add a spinner, likely Jack Leach, to its team after being heavily criticised for not doing so in Adelaide, where Nathan Lyon picked up five wickets.

Mark Wood is also tipped to return, leaving the Poms with a tough call on who to leave out.

Chris Woakes is struggling with the ball in hand yet dropping him would mean losing the best No. 8 option in the squad.

Ollie Robinson, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are the other members of the bowling attack, with the latter two a chance of being rested again at some point.

Vaughan told Fox Cricket he had been on the MCG pitch recently and has telling observations.

“It doesn’t look like the kind of pitch where it’s going to be turning square,” he said.

He still said a spinner needs to be part of the set-up but doubted whether Leach can respond from his poor outing at the Gabba.

Jack Leach is back in the frame. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“You think back to what he did in Brisbane,” Vaughan said.

“The batters scored 147 and he’s asked to bowl on the green top. He did not play for England in Test cricket back home against New Zealand or India, on the back of last winter when he bowled nicely against Sri Lanka and again India.

“I just worry about his mindset. Does he really believe he belongs in this England set-up?

“I think that is going to be the challenge for Jack Leach or Dom Bess, whichever spinner they go with. I’d like a spinner but you look at the way they’ve managed spin for a year now, whichever spinner they pick I’m not sure they’ll be rocking up to the MCG with confidence.”

Harmison said that the conditions will make Wood a must-add but whether they pick a spinner remains the “big question”.

“Wood has to play, there is no question at all, because England need some variation in their attack,” he said.

Vaughan slams England’s selections | 02:01

“A green wicket means England can utilise seamers and Wood must play.

“A big question is whether they pick a spinner, if Root picks a spin bowler then it’ll probably be at the expense of Broad because the wicket will be decent for batting on.”

Root criticised the bowlers at the conclusion of the Adelaide test, arguing they did not bowl to the right lengths.

Interestingly, Harmison believes the skipper may have been playing mind games in a bid to justify leaving Anderson or Broad out.

“Perhaps he was playing mind games and this was Root’s way of saying to the media that they didn’t bowl well enough and this is giving him justification to drop Anderson and Broad in the future,” he added.

“I think England will pick Woakes and [Craig] Overton and I think they’ll leave both Broad and Anderson out. That message from Joe Root at the end of the second Test was a first shot across the bow to leave the two all-time greats out.”


Pope and Jos Buttler are the other two England players who have had their spots in the team brought into question.

Off the back of his day five slog with the bat, it is hard to see Buttler missing out despite a few fielding mishaps.

“I thought Buttler dropped an easy catch and then he dropped one that hit him hard, he also took some stunners – he’s taken some very good catches in this series so far,” Harmison said.

“I was proud of Buttler standing up and not giving his wicket away in the second innings, he chewed up a lot of balls and faced the bowlers on a tough surface.

Jos Buttler has done more than enough to keep his spot. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“He might have been out for a pair and we might not have seen him in a Test again if Alex Carey or David Warner took that catch, he’d be out for zero and zero and there would have been a lot of stick and pressure to come.

“I’ve questioned him in the past when he first came in, but he can’t be dropped now for missing a catch in Adelaide after 150 overs in the field.”

Pope is another story though, following up a 35-run knock at the Gabba with single figure returns.

He has averaged just 12 runs so far at the Ashes, with Nasser Hussain describing Pope’s performances down under as “frenetic”.

“Pope is all over the place with his game-plan against Lyon, who gets real drop on the ball, and that is immediately putting him under pressure,” he told Sky Sports.

“His brain is a little bit scrambled.”

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Versatile batter Jonny Bairstow is the contender to come in at the No. 6 role but Vaughan is not convinced he is the answer.

“I’m not a massive believer in that one,” he told Fox Cricket.

“I think Ollie Pope’s ceiling in Test cricket is quite high. I would have kept him in the team.”

Harmison took the other side, agreeing that Pope has a bright future but urging England to go with who is the better option right now.

“Ollie Pope has looked all at sea, whether it’s the pressure getting to him or his technique letting him down,” he said.

“This kid is a fantastic cricketer and he’ll play 100 Test matches for England, but right now he needs to get away from potential and start delivering actual run-scoring performances.

“Adelaide was his 22nd Test match and I’d go with experience instead with Bairstow at six, then Buttler at seven. My selection would be an experienced team and England need these players to count in front of a packed crowd on Boxing Day.

“I’m also looking at Burns, Malan, Bairstow and Buttler and thinking that they might not be back in four years time so they’re playing for their Test careers too.”

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