England not strongest for Ashes but Australia cannot be complacent -Atherton
England won't be taking their strongest Test team to Australia for the five-match Ashes series, but the hosts are a less than threatening side themselves apart from the pace bowlers, says former England former captain Michael Atherton.
England on Sunday named their best available squad, with all-rounders Ben Stokes and Sam Curran missing out, though paceman Stuart Broad was included despite a calf injury.
Stokes was unavailable as he continues his indefinite break from cricket to focus on his mental health, while also recovering from a second operation on a broken finger. Curran was left out due to a stress fracture in his lower back.
Fast bowler Jofra Archer was unavailable after he suffered a recurrence of a stress fracture in his elbow.
“It's not the strongest squad England have taken to Australia — nor is it the weakest,” Atherton wrote in his column for The Times.
“Australia might be so described as well, strong as they are in bowling but less so in batting.
“Any doubts over England's prospects are tempered to some extent by doubts in Australia's camp, where much rests on the form of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and the fitness of the main three fast bowlers: Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.”
The opening match of the series begins in Brisbane on Dec. 8, with Australia playing their first Test since losing to India in January.
“Quite what degree of readiness Australia's players will be in is anyone's guess, because they have played no Test cricket since being beaten at home by a second-string India team nine months ago,” Atherton said.
“There have been rumblings about the coach, Justin Langer, since then and David Warner's place will come under scrutiny if he starts badly. Beyond the main bowlers, the threat recedes.”
There were no uncapped players in the 17-member squad that included recalls for batsman Zak Crawley and spinner Dom Bess.
Coach Chris Silverwood said England are “battle hardened” after playing tests New Zealand and India during the summer in the build-up to the Ashes.
“We've had some tough tests coming into this, playing New Zealand and India who are the two best teams in the world. That's been great preparation for us... It's massively exciting this series is going ahead,” Silverwood told reporters.
The series had been in doubt after England players expressed concerns about the tour due to “bubble fatigue” and because their families would not be able to travel with them due to Australia's strict COVID-19 protocols, but the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) gave conditional approval for it to go ahead on Friday.
Silverwood said captain Joe Root played a key role in ensuring players made themselves available for the series and praised his leadership skills.
“There were a lot of negotiations that went on ... (Root) showed a lot of class, a lot of empathy and a lot of real good leadership skills to get the players to this point. Equally, the way he looked after the staff as well.
“What it has done, I think, is galvanise his position as a leader... He came back with a very level view on everything and it really helped to get us to this point.”
Australia retained the Ashes when the teams last met in 2019 in England after a 2-2 series draw.
Squad: Joe Root (capt), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood — Reuters
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