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The Ashes: How England might line up this summer

The next Ashes series is nearly upon us and spirits should be high in the England camp as they look to regain the urn under the guidance of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.

It was Australia who reigned supreme last time out, winning 4-0 on home soil in the 2021-22 series, but a lot has changed since then and England are 1/1 to come out on top when they lock horns with their great Test rivals again. 

Since McCullum took charge as head coach, England have won 10 of their last 12 Test matches, adopting an ultra-aggressive style of cricket dubbed 'Bazball'. 

The new approach has yielded results and England look in a strong position ahead of this summer's Ashes, which begins with the first Test at Edgbaston on Friday 16th June. 

But before then, England will need to settle on their best side and that is easier said than done. 

With players such as Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Jonny Bairstow on course to return from injury in time for the start of the Ashes, managing director Rob Key, national selector Luke Wright, performance director Mo Bobat and McCullum and Stokes have some big decisions to make. 

Here is a look at how England might line up for the 2023 Ashes series.

WhatEngland v Australia, 2023 Ashes series
WhereEdgbaston, Lord's, Headingley, Old Trafford, The Oval
WhenFriday 16th June - Monday 31st July 2023
How to watchSky Sports Cricket & Main Event
Odds (outright)England 1/1, Draw 6/1, Australia 13/10

Crawley likely to open despite poor Test record

One of the biggest decisions the England selectors will make ahead of this summer's Ashes will be whether or not to open with the divisive Zak Crawley. 

It is fair to say he lacks the consistency of legendary openers gone by - in the 33 Tests he has played for England, Crawley has averaged just 27.60 - while, for some, he is simply not good enough. 

Nonetheless, the talent is there as evidenced by his knocks of 122 and 50 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi last December, but, more importantly, dislodging Crawley from the team would create a dilemma. 

Having broken his leg in a freak accident last September, Bairstow is on the road to recovery and should be available for this summer's Ashes. 

Despite his lengthy lay-off, he has to come into the team on the back of his previous form, but the player who replaced him, Harry Brook, has impressed and must also remain in the side. 

That ultimately means England have to choose between dropping Crawley or Ben Foakes from the team, and the problem with removing the former is that it would be unclear who would open with Ben Duckett instead. 

Bairstow needs to come in lower down the order after the reliable trifecta of Ollie Pope, Joe Root and Brook, as he is able to steady the ship in the event of an early collapse. 

At this stage so close to the beginning of the Ashes, England should not risk tinkering too much with what has been a decent top order and Crawley will likely remain.

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Level of Stokes involvement is uncertain

The top order for England, therefore, looks pretty clear-cut. 

Crawley and Duckett will take to the crease first followed by Pope, Root and Brook and with Bairstow primed to come in at seven, it will be super skipper Ben Stokes who comes in at six. 

We all know what Stokes can do with the bat - his Headingley heroics were a wonder to behold in the last home Ashes series for England back in 2019 and he averages 35.92 in the Test format. 

But whether or not Stokes will be up to bowling remains to be seen. 

The world-class all-rounder has been dealing with a niggling injury in his left knee for some time and if he cannot bowl, that could have repercussions for the rest of the team. 

Indeed, if Stokes can only bat in this summer's Ashes, that could result in spinner Jack Leach being dropped so that England can bring in another seamer. 

That looks likely and if it proves to be the case, Root, who has 53 Test wickets to his name, could then be utilised as the spinner when needed. 

The question is which four fast bowlers do England go for?

Returns of Archer and Wood could complicate things

Stokes has made it no secret that he was impressed by the bowling combination of James Anderon, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson during the tour of New Zealand. 

All three of those players are inside the top 11 in the world Test bowler rankings and rightfully so, but the returns of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer from injuries could change things. 

Archer brings an X-Factor and needs to be in the team and will likely be joined by the experienced Anderson, who has an eye-watering 685 Test wickets to his name. 

As for the other two spots, one is likely to be filled by Robinson, with Mark Wood and Chris Woakes fighting for the other, along with Broad, who may ultimately be deputy to Anderson, with the veteran duo unlikely to be able to compete in all five Tests. 

One thing is for sure, regardless of how England's bowling attack lines up for the opener at Edgbaston, there will be a lot of rotation throughout the series.

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