<
>

Last chance for Vince and Stoneman to impress

play
'Dreamed of playing in Sydney' - Stoneman (1:57)

With friends and family in the city, England opener Mark Stoneman feels the final Ashes Test will be the icing on the cake for him personally (1:57)

The Ashes may have gone but, for several England players, the Sydney Test could have career-defining implications.

The likes of James Vince (199 runs at 28.42 in the series) and Mark Stoneman (208 at 29.71) have had some decent moments in Australia without producing the performance that would have either cemented their place or changed the direction of a match. And with the squad for the series against New Zealand set to be announced on the morning of January 10 (Australia time) both have one last opportunity to impress.

Stoneman is by far the more secure batsman. Despite a top score of only 56 after seven Tests, despite having scored only nine more runs than Vince and despite a record strikingly similar to that of Michael Carberry (who was dropped after he averaged 28.10 in Australia in 2013-14), Stoneman has impressed with his attitude and is an almost certain pick for the New Zealand tour. The fact that few other openers are pushing for his spot might well be a factor, too.

But Vince needs a performance in Sydney. While he has, at times, looked a high-class player, he is another who has failed to produce the match-defining total. He has only two half-centuries after 11 Tests, and there is a growing sense of impatience over his contributions. He remains likely to make the squad for the New Zealand tour, but two failures here could change that.

Counting against Vince, however, is that many of those players the England management like the look of - Joe Clarke, Liam Livingstone and Dan Lawrence - are vying for a middle-order spot. And as the selectors try to bring younger players into the side with a view to providing them a long lead-in to the next Ashes series, the pressure on the likes of Vince will only grow.

Gary Ballance is another possible casualty before the squad for the New Zealand series is announced. Ballance has been given almost no chance to impress in Australia - he has scored 51, 1 and 45 not out in his three innings and has not played a first-class game - but may be squeezed out as the selectors look to the future.

It is likely that Ben Stokes will be named in the squad. But that does not mean he is likely to make the tour. His name will appear, as it did in the limited-overs squad, as a legal nicety to ensure that the ECB is not seen to be prejudicing the on-going investigation into his actions outside a Bristol nightclub in September. Realistically it seems most unlikely he will make the tour.

Toby Roland-Jones, who will go on the Lions' tour to the Caribbean, is the likely beneficiary. Mark Wood and Craig Overton, who will not be considered for selection in Sydney as he recovers from a cracked rib, also look likely to make the New Zealand tour, with Jake Ball in danger of missing out. Steven Finn, who underwent surgery on his knee having returned home from the Ashes tour after a few days, is not thought to have regained the fitness required for selection.

play
1:25

Starc's absence showed in Melbourne - Stoneman

Mark Stoneman is ready for whatever comes from Australia's bowling attack for the last Ashes Test

The shape of the England team for the Sydney Test is not yet completely clear. While it still appears likely that Mason Crane will make his Test debut, a first look at the pitch has caused some confusion. It is currently greener than expected and offers a decent covering of grass. That grass will be cut back, though, leaving a pitch that will essentially remain good for batting.

As a result, the balance of probability suggests that Moeen Ali may retain his place at the expense of Tom Curran - although there are injury doubts over Chris Woakes who was sent for a scan on his left side on Wednesday morning and if he does not get through training on Wednesday, both Curran and Moeen could be included.

Omission after one Test would be cruel luck for Curran who let nobody down with his performance on a horribly slow wicket in Melbourne. But the surface did show up his lack of pace and, as England try to juggle their need for some variation in their attack and some depth to their batting, Moeen may retain his place at No. 7 in the hope that his selection as a second spinner will allow him to relax and regain his best form.

There were several new faces at England's training session at the SCG on Tuesday. Three young county legspinners Matt Parkinson (Lancashire; currently playing Grade cricket for Gordon -the club Crane played for last year), Josh Poysden, (Warwickshire) and Matt Critchley (Derbyshire) were among them, while Stuart MacGill, the former Australian legspinner who had worked with Crane last year, watched on and offered advice.

The other notable aspects of training were the long stint Joe Root had - he was dropped from the team for the Sydney Test in 2013-14 and is desperate to end this tour on a high - and a slightly jaded look to a couple of seamers. The huge workload they undertook in Melbourne - Anderson alone bowled 59 overs in the Test - may have taken a toll.

"It's been a pretty frustrating tour on a personal level," Stoneman, who watched the 2006-07 Ashes Test here from the crowd, said on Tuesday. "Everybody knows the key to Test cricket is getting big scores on the board and if you're only making 30s then you're giving the opposition a chance to make inroads. If you give the Australian attack a sniff, they come pretty hard and take wickets in bunches.

"On the flip side, as we saw from Alastair Cook the other day, if you're out there for seven or eight hours, the attack will wilt a little bit. Given the nature of having to bowl 25 or 30 overs, big scores can be put on the board and gives you chance of winning games. It's been frustrating from a personal point of view, but hopefully I can put that right here."