Whilst Australia basks in the glory of continuing their irrepressible Ashes dominance at home, England yet again leaves the land of their oldest foe with more questions than answers.
While the visitors had hopes preceding the series that this tour could replicate the heroics of the star-studded 2010/11 team, any optimism dissipated simultaneously with the crashing of Rory Burns’ leg stump on the first ball of Australia’s Test summer.
While England’s quest to obtain white-ball supremacy succeeded when Eoin Morgan held the ICC Cricket World Cup aloft at Lord’s in 2019, English red-ball cricket has been left in turmoil, with head coach Chris Silverwood under threat, while the County Championship system has been placed squarely under the microscope by fans and commentators alike.
With some of England’s reliable old guard approaching the swansong of their careers, alongside incumbent England squad members flattering to deceive, the touring side in 2025/26 promises to be vastly different from the 2021/22 side, whose 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Australia left English cricket at breaking point.
Just how different might the England squad look in four years? The Inner Sanctum makes a prediction.
1. Alex Lees
England’s openers fell 14 times without scoring in 2021, once again failing to adequately replace the gaping holes left by perennial run scorers Sir Alastair Cook and Sir Andrew Strauss. Haseeb Hameed’s average of 10 throughout the series was only marginally bettered by opening partner Rory Burns, whose own average of 12.66 across the series is nothing to write home about.
The next-in-line to try his hand at the poisoned chalice looks to be Halifax-born Alex Lees. Highly regarded when rising through the ranks at his home county of Yorkshire, the talented batsman was given his first-class debut at the age of just 17.
At the age of 20, he was already a double centurion at County Championship level, scoring a masterful 275* against Derbyshire, a knock that remains his best at first-class level.
Now 28, Lees is expected to gain his first Test cap over in the West Indies, and with time on his side, we may well see him retain the position until England’s men’s side next play a Test match on Australian shores, so long as he performs well in the role, which of course is easier said than done.
2. Jake Libby
Lees’ opening partner was whittled down to two candidates, but because Jake Libby will likely be nearer to the peak of his powers at the age of 31 by the time the tour rolls around, he takes the spot ahead of Warwickshire’s Rob Yates.
Libby announced himself onto the County Championship scene with a century on debut for Nottinghamshire in 2014, the first Notts player to do so since 1946.
The now-Worcestershire batsman has also performed well on Australian shores previously, averaging over 80 with the bat in Tasmanian grade cricket with Latrobe in the 2014-15 season, something that should hold him in good stead should an away Ashes opportunity come his way.
Jake Libby has all the hallmarks of a quality test opener, with the potential to be the player that English fans have been yearning for years to grace the England setup if he continues to stand out at first-class level.
3. Josh Bohannon
Bolton’s Josh Bohannon hails from the same northwest town as Haseeb Hameed, which is not the only similarity that the pair share with one another.
Just as Hameed did before his opening Test bout, Bohannon announced himself with the Old Trafford outfit, with a series of strong performances making him a pivotal cog in the Lancashire side.
Despite experience batting as low as eight throughout his first-class career, he has found his way up the order with the Red Rose, with his best innings coming at first drop being a masterful 174 against Derbyshire in 2019, whilst also notching 170 against eventual Division 1 champions Warwickshire last year also batting at three.
As Dawid Malan is expected to call time on his Test career before the next men’s Ashes Test takes place Down Under, a chance looms for the rising star to make the spot his own in forthcoming years.
4. Joe Root (c)
The first name on the team sheet now, and most probably still the first name on the team sheet in 4 years’ time.
While this Ashes series has seen Joe Root’s captaincy called into question, his record across his career does not deserve the same treatment, still averaging just under fifty in his 114 matches at Test level.
For large parts of the recently concluded tour, the Yorkshireman provided the only respite for his country, valiantly attempting to hold the top order together when all fell around him.
Root looks to be a key piece in the English cricketing revival, and, likely, he will still be the pièce de résistance of the top order when he resumes his quest to obtain an elusive Ashes hundred away from home.
5. Ben Stokes
After a long break away from the game of cricket for a myriad of reasons, Ben Stokes can be forgiven for performing well below his outstanding best across the tour.
Despite this, the Durham star is frightening when at optimal performance, remaining as one of the best genuine all-rounders in the game, averaging 36 with the bat and 32 with the ball while wearing whites.
Australian fans will need no reminding of his stellar innings at Headingley in 2019, his 135* widely regarded as one of the greatest Test batting performances of all-time as England fought back to claim the unlikeliest of victories in Leeds.
If he can get a full preparation behind him, something that Stokes did not have leading into the tour just gone, 2025/26 may finally be the time that Stokes shows the full extent of his class in Australia, a scary proposition for any bowling attack no matter who is a part of it.
6. Ollie Pope
Another England batter for whom it did not go to plan across the series, Pope’s average of just over 11 detailed England’s batting woes in microcosm.
However, with a first-class average above fifty, the 24-year old knows how to find runs, and with time on his side, Pope should still have a long Test career ahead of him despite a poor tour with the bat.
He came into the Test series on blistering form, scoring 861 runs for Surrey in last year’s County Championship at an impeccable average of 78.27, the highest average of any batter to have played more than five matches.
Pope’s strong form at first-class level has failed to translate to Test level as of yet, but given his consistent brilliance with his county, one would think he will have many more chances to prove himself at the game’s highest level.
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7. Ben Foakes (wk)
Many English eyebrows were raised when Ben Foakes was snubbed by Lancashire’s Jos Buttler for the role of England’s gloveman, and as Buttler failed to grasp the chance adequately, Pope’s Surrey teammate is firmly in the frame to keep wicket for his country in the future.
Foakes thrust his name into the spotlight in only his first appearance for England in any format with a classy 107 in Sri Lanka, thus already accomplishing the tough task of notching a Test ton away in the subcontinent.
It is not only with the willow where Foakes has stood out, as he has looked impressive behind the stumps as well, exemplified by the fact he shares the record for the most stumpings in a match by an English wicketkeeper with three.
Still only 28 and three years’ Buttler’s junior, an opportunity may arise for the eight-time Test cricketer to become a household name with a series of strong performances when the men’s Ashes are next contested in Australia.
8. Dom Bess
As Graeme Swann was a key factor behind England’s shock series win away from home eleven years ago, and Jack Leach produced abject performances with ball in hand this English winter, this all describes how imperative spinners are in England’s hopes to return the urn back home.
Enter Dom Bess. An off-spinner who has already been capped 14 times at Test level by his country, the Exeter-born cricketer has had experience already at the level required, even taking a five-wicket haul away in South Africa in early 2020.
While Mason Crane’s leg-spin almost ousted Bess from this eleven, the fact that the Yorkshire bowler is handy with the bat proved to be a more attractive proposition than the Hampshire bowler, averaging 22.78 at first-class level as opposed to Crane’s 11.35.
As a strong bowling all-rounder, Bess may be the perfect solution to balance the England lineup, something that may well hold him in good stead in the selection conversation for the next men’s away Ashes series when the time comes.
9. Mark Wood
After toiling away all summer, Mark Wood received just reward for his efforts in the final Test of the summer, claiming 6-37 in the second innings in Hobart.
Adored by English fans for his tenacity and work ethic, it is unlikely he receives the same treatment from opposition batsmen, with his deliveries consistently reaching searing speeds of approximately 150km/h.
His dominance over world number one Test batsman Marnus Labuschagne was something no other English bowler could establish, claiming the prized wicket of the Queenslander three times in as many innings across the Melbourne and Sydney Tests.
The glaring question surrounding the Geordie quick is whether he can stay injury-free, and if Wood can stay away from the treatment room, he may remain a valuable asset in the English bowling attack for years to come.
10. Jofra Archer
Ever since Jofra Archer switched international allegiances from the West Indies to England before the 2019 Ashes series, cricketing fans have waited with bated breath to see just how he would acquit himself on a tour of Australia.
Injuries robbed the Barbadian-born paceman of a chance to test himself against the likes of Labuschagne, Warner, and Smith in Australia, something that seems to be an inevitable conclusion once he returns from the elbow injury that currently sees him sidelined.
With 14 tests to his name to date, bowling the super over on that famous Sunday at Lord’s, and having played an Ashes series at home where his fierce battles with Steve Smith were must-watch, there is no question that Archer has gained experience in major moments for England despite his young international cricketing career.
With the likelihood that both Stuart Broad and James Anderson will have both retired when England’s best male eleven return to Australia, Archer looks primed to be the cornerstone of the new-look English bowling charges, especially come 2025/26.
11. Saqib Mahmood
Whilst many of his English compatriots found this Australian summer tough, Saqib Mahmood took to bowling Down Under like a duck to water, taking 13 wickets in five matches with the Sydney Thunder in the eleventh edition of the Big Bash League.
Taking 70 wickets at first-class level at an average of just under 28 with the ball, the Birmingham-born Lancashire quick was named as a reserve player for England’s home Test series with the West Indies in 2020.
Once again, Mahmood’s pace diffentiates himself with his contemporaries, reaching speeds of 150km/h when he bowls at his quickest.
While he remains uncapped at Test level, the 24-year old has impressed in his seven one-day internationals and nine T20 internationals, so expect that to change before long.
Waiting in the wings
The future of England’s pace bowling attack looks strong for the next away Ashes series despite the likelihood both James Anderson and Stuart Broad will have most likely retired from Test cricket by 2025.
Should Mark Wood fail to get a run without injuries, both Ollie Robinson and Olly Stone may be in the box seat, particularly if the latter keeps himself injury-free. Robinson burst into the Test cricket limelight a five-for in the last English summer, while Stone’s pace also many frightens opposition batters, often reaching speeds of 150km/h.
If England decides for leg-spin as a substitute for Dom Bess, Matt Parkinson, and once-capped Mason Crane could be viable options for England’s next tour of Australia, Crane’s experience at Sheffield Shield level in 2017 with New South Wales potentially boosting his hopes for a call-up.
England should not be light in terms of all-rounders in four years’ time, with hard hitting batting all-rounder Liam Livingstone and Sam Curran potentially ready if required.
Zak Crawley gained several admirers with his enterprising batting in England’s final three Ashes Tests, perhaps unlucky not to see his eventual average for the series higher than 27.67. He already has a Test double century to his name with a wonderful 267 against Pakistan in 2020, an innings that showed his credentials as a Test batsman.
Haseeb Hameed‘s Test career will likely continue, but his inability to adapt to Australian conditions may mean he might be overlooked for the next away Ashes tour, while James Bracey‘s century for the England Lions last month may kickstart a career revival at the top level.
The 2025/26 series may come too soon for under-19 captain Tom Prest, but his career should end with a myriad of Test caps for England if he maintains his career trajectory, while there would not be too many surprises if Rob Yates walks out to bat for England as an opener if he continue to impress while playing for Warwickshire.
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