England’s winter touring programme began this week as they headed off to the UAE for the Twenty20 World Cup, with the big one — the Ashes — following hot on its heels.
Sportsmail’s Nasser Hussain, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, Lawrence Booth and Richard Gibson are joined by former England batsman Mark Butcher as they consider six crucial questions for the next few months and beyond.
England have begun their winter programme and our experts have their say on their chances
1) JACK LEACH AND DOM BESS ARE THE TWO SPINNERS IN THE SQUAD. IS THAT THE RIGHT CALL?
BUTCHER: Leach had to tour, but England are no wiser as to whether he can be used as a lone spinner along with three seamers. They had the chance to trial that against New Zealand in June, and didn’t. He’s good in the fourth innings, but can he hold the game up on the first three days?
The same could be asked of Matt Parkinson, who isn’t in the squad. His twin brother Callum — the Leicestershire slow left-armer — is underrated, gets the ball through quicker and flatter, and is very accurate.
Jack Leach is England's No 1 spinner but has endured an uninspiring summer at County level
LLOYD: In Australia, you need a wrist-spinner, and Shane Warne likes Parkinson. I wouldn’t have been averse either to Mason Crane, whom I’ve seen bowl well for Hampshire. Parkinson may have meant a long tail, but you need to take 20 wickets.
GIBSON: Although Danny Briggs came up on the rails with solid performances for county champions Warwickshire, Leach and Bess were clearly viewed as the men in possession having featured earlier this year.
Yet Leach managed only 18 wickets in 10 Championship outings for Somerset, while off-spinners tend to struggle in Australia. Parkinson should have gone as a potential match-winner, but lacks the batting and fielding ability of slow left-armer Briggs.
BOOTH: Parkinson should be ahead of Bess. Leach is the first-choice spinner but should have been treated better after taking 28 wickets in six Tests in Sri Lanka and India last winter.
Lancashire's Matt Parkinson should be ahead of Dom Bess but England did not gamble
Parkinson would have been a gamble, but England needed to take risks to stand a chance in Australia, and his first-class record — 102 wickets at 23, with an economy rate of 2.77 — is outstanding for a young leg-spinner.
HUSSAIN: Leach becomes No 1 spinner, and I’d probably have selected Parkinson, too. He still bowls a bit slowly and doesn’t have much variation, but he gets good drift and turn. They have taken Bess because they want to balance the side with an off-spinner who can bat, but I’m sure Joe Root can be a second spinner.
2) ARE YOU HAPPY WITH A TOP THREE OF BURNS, HAMEED AND MALAN?
GIBSON: It arguably picks itself. England had to make changes in the summer, and Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed and Dawid Malan will arrive in Australia upbeat. Hameed plays the ball late, an important trait on quicker pitches, while Burns and Malan have decent Ashes memories.
HUSSAIN: I’d stick with that trio, though I’m a bit concerned about Hameed’s low hands on bouncy Australian pitches. In terms of back-up, I was impressed by Warwickshire’s Rob Yates during the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s, and everyone speaks highly of Tom Haines at Sussex.
England's top order of Rory Burns (R), Haseeb Hameed (L) and Dawid Malan (not pictured) will arrive in Australia upbeat
LLOYD: For me, it should have been Daniel Bell-Drummond, Zak Crawley and Malan. Why would I leave out Burns and Hameed? Because you need conventional players. Burns’s technique is anything but, and Hameed has a first-class average of 32 and a strike-rate of 38 — he allows the game to meander.
You can’t afford to be 210 for four when the second new ball arrives: that means 250 for six, and 290 all out. Hameed’s good tour of India was ages ago.
BUTCHER: It shouldn’t differ from the back end of the India series. Australia will have respect for Burns because of the way he played Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood in 2019.
I like Malan at three and, as he showed with his hundred at Perth four years ago, his game is suited to Australian conditions. Hameed should keep the middle order away from the Kookaburra ball while it’s still hard.
Bumble believes that Kent star Daniel Bell-Drummond should have got the nod for the tour
BOOTH: Burns and Hameed shared century opening stands at Headingley and the Oval, while Malan looked solid on his Test comeback. And in 2017-18, he scored a century at Perth — which only Graham Thorpe, Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes had done for England since 1986-87.
3) WITH STOKES ABSENT, WHO CAN BE ENGLAND'S TALISMAN?
BOOTH: This year, Root has scored nearly 1,000 Test runs more than England’s next-most prolific batsman (Burns, with 479), and six of their seven hundreds. He’ll need to add another three if his team are to have any chance.
LLOYD: For runs, you can’t look beyond Root. But I also believe the bowlers have a chance to make a name for