Toby Roland-Jones Ashes Dilemma
Cricket can be a cruel game. After a fantastic breakthrough summer which featured an impressive debut against South Africa where Toby Roland-Jones claimed a five-for at The Oval, the timing of an injury which rules him out of this winter’s Ashes is an agonising blow. When he left the field on the first day of the County Championship match between Lancashire and Middlesex at Old Trafford, the signs were worrying. The confirmation that Roland-Jones had suffered a stress fracture to his lower back which followed, is significant not only on a personal level but to the England team as a whole.
England announced their squad for the Ashes tour on 27th September but the selectors faced an unforeseen dilemma. Roland-Jones was a shoe-in for one of the bowlers’ positions for the tour and needed to be replaced. If Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Stokes remain fit throughout the series, the loss of Toby Roland-Jones, although unfortunate, should not prove too costly. However, in seam friendly Australian conditions, England will be keen to avoid taking that risk.
England’s most obvious option was surely Steven Finn, who has been in and out of the England side in recent years. The move would add extra height and bounce to the attack. Finn’s action infamously caused the MCC to review no-ball laws in 2013, in circumstances where a bowler should disturb the bails in their delivery. Finn has since redeveloped his action and now looks a more assured fast bowler who continues to cause problems for batsmen throughout the batting order in county cricket. I wasn’t the only person to be surprised when he failed to make the final squad.
The decision to select the young Craig Overton of Somerset, aged just twenty-three, was unexpected. Uncapped at test level Overton will be a debutante should make the first eleven in The Ashes series. He is a fast medium pace bowler, with a strong record for Somerset in the County Championship but he has also been handy with the bat in recent years, averaging 22 in first class cricket. Although he lacks the all-round mastery demonstrated by England’s best all-rounder, Ben Stokes, his future as an international cricketer looks bright. Even before the Ashes squad was announced, Trevor Bayliss played down the idea of fielding a debutante in the series, a comment which seems peculiar now.
It is also unclear whether Ben Stokes will make the plane to Australia in light of his arrest in the early hours of the morning following the 2nd ODI against the West Indies. Without another all-rounder of the calibre of Ben Stokes, England will be forced into selecting a less experienced all-rounder in the form of Craig Overton or a specialist batsman or bowler dependent on the balance of the side. In recent years, England’s batting depth has often been their strength and they will be keen to maintain that in Australia.
If Stokes fails to play in The Ashes entirely, England will lose an excellent all-rounder compounding their existing bowling issues. England’s seam options include Anderson, Broad, Woakes, Ball and Overton but the latter two are largely unproven talents. The selectors have an unenviable dilemma on their hands.
Roland-Jones is 29 and by the time the Ashes return to England in 2019, he will face stiff competition from the younger crop of bowlers that are touring with the England Lions this time around. Depending on how quickly he can recover, Roland-Jones may return to action towards the end of the Ashes series. It is more likely, however, that his stress fracture will see him miss out on proving his talents at the very highest level.