Rory Burns and Ollie Pope axed for Boxing Day Test as England twist

Rory Burns

England have swung the axe for their must-win Boxing Day Test against Australia, making four changes to the team in Melbourne.

Most significantly, the tourists have lost patience with their misfiring batting unit, benching Surrey duo Rory Burns and Ollie Pope in favour of the returning Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow.

Elsewhere, the bowling has been rotated once again with Mark Wood back after being rested in Adelaide and left-arm spinner Jack Leach recalled to the XI. Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad make way.

Burns and Pope have endured a lean start to the series, which England trail 2-0 after thrashings in the first two Tests, with opener Burns making 51 runs at 12.75 and Pope 48 runs at 12 from number six.

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The pair held their places when England kept faith with a flimsy top seven despite a poor showing in Brisbane, but a repeat performance in the day/night Test at Adelaide has sent head coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root scrambling for replacements.

Burns was clean bowled by the very first ball of the tour, but showed some signs of warming up to the series with a battling 34 in his last innings. With Crawley’s return hastened by some impressive showings in the nets England may have considered dropping Burns’ opening partner Haseeb Hameed instead, but have backed the younger man.

Rory Burns (left) and Ollie Pope (right) have paid the price for poor returns.
Rory Burns (left) and Ollie Pope (right) have paid the price for poor returns (Mike Egerton/PA)

The number 31 may have counted against Burns in three factors – it is his age, his number of caps and his rounded-up Test average. He is the only England player other than Joe Root to hit a Test century in 2021, against New Zealand at Lord’s, but has also been dismissed for nought on six separate occasions and judgement may now have been passed that he has plateaued as an international player.

Pope is a different matter. England remain convinced that the 23-year-old is the brightest prospect of his generation but his progress has stalled and, after 22 caps, his repeated struggles to build long innings have become an insurmountable problem. His average dipped below 30 in Adelaide and, while he is certain to be seen again, some rethinking of his methods may be required.

The cavalry’s statistics do not tell a hugely encouraging tale either, Crawley lost his place after averaging a wince-inducing 11.14 in 2021, and Bairstow has a top score of 57 in 15 innings this year.

While that is concerning, England hope that Crawley’s height and tendency to play the ball late will prove well suited to Australian conditions and that Bairstow’s experience can carry him through a return in front of 70,000 fans at the MCG. He is on his third Ashes tour in Australia and scored a century in Perth four years ago.