Stokes fit to play as Root ponders all-seam attack
All-rounder has thigh strain but able to bat in decisive Test Archer and Anderson could feature with Bess missing out
Joe Root moved quickly to avert a national emergency yesterday as he discussed the state of Ben Stokes’s health for the series-deciding Test against West Indies starting today at Emirates Old Trafford.
“He is definitely OK to play as a batsman. Don’t worry too much. I can see the concern on people’s faces but it is a question of how much impact he can have with the ball on day one, in the second innings, or at all.”
Stokes had the perfect game to inspire a series-levelling win in the second Test, but it came at the cost of a thigh strain that entails a rethink for England.
His sheer will to win means you cannot rule out Stokes bowling at some stage of the third Test, but England clearly feel he will be diminished, so there will be no reprising of his spell last Sunday of 11 overs containing 57 bouncers.
With Stokes only partly fit, Root admitted they were considering leaving out Dom Bess. With cloudy skies and rain forecast, tomorrow looks likely to be another washout, so this is set to be a truncated match and it will be tempting to go with an all-seam attack. Root is always willing to fill in as a part-time spinner, too, but it is a gamble not picking a front-line slow bowler at Old Trafford, where Moeen Ali averages 21 and it turned in the second Test.
A 14-man squad was named yesbetter terday to give Root plenty of choice this morning. It seems unlikely England will weaken the batting by dropping anyone in the top six to make way for an extra seamer, given they have just started to learn how to make totals in excess of 400.
England’s route to victory is clear; head coach Chris Silverwood has identified a method that was never established by his predecessor, Trevor Bayliss. His team have won three of their past four Tests based on first-innings scores above 400 compiled with gritty, patient and at times, boring batting. They had managed 400 only once in 26 attempts before then.
During Root’s entire captaincy reign – 40 matches since July 2017 – they have exceeded 400 in their first innings on only eight occasions, one of which came in his first game in the role.
Making 400 has become harder in England and Bayliss’s team were not unusual in that respect, with touring sides managing it only twice since Root took over. England have enough bowling in home conditions with a Dukes ball to often not need to score 400 in order to set up a win.
But this is about building towards Australia and developing new habits. Batting patiently to make big first-innings totals is the only way to win the next Ashes series, with 400 the base of victories in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg over the winter, as well as last week.
The pitch should not play too differently to the one for the second Test, given it is only two strips across on the large square. It will offer something for the new ball, but require pace to break through later, which is why Jofra Archer’s skill and motivation to prove a point means he should replace Sam Curran. West Indies have shown a dislike for the short ball and were roughed up by
Battling on: Ben Stokes in the nets at Old Trafford yesterday. He will play in the third Test despite suffering from a thigh strain
Stokes in the second Test, so will be nervous facing Archer.
The jockeying for places in England’s attack is the fiercest James Anderson has known in his career. His days of being guaranteed a place now over.
While Mark Wood is fresh, he is likely to be held back for Pakistan and Anderson could be recalled. He was rested for the second Test with a view to playing this week and exploiting West Indies’ weakness against the ball nipping back in. Chris Woakes is in rhythm now and England are backtracking on their policy of not picking Anderson and Stuart Broad together after Broad roared back with two three-wicket spells last week.
England have to pick their moments with Anderson, and resting him has given them the option of playing him in back-to-back Tests as there is a short break after this series before the players start preparing to play Pakistan on Aug 5.
Anderson looks set to end this series and start the next, which gives him two matches bowling from the James Anderson End to take the 13 wickets he needs to reach 600.
Broad and Anderson should not take the new ball together. Archer needs to break their hold, especially after a week in which his decision to breach biosecure guidelines suggests a cricketer who needs to be given responsibility to realise he has to grow up.
This Test will have a different feel, even without a crowd. It has been renamed the Ruth Strauss Foundation Test, with teams presented with red caps before play, the stumps turned red and red boundary boards. It will be the last series with the Wisden Trophy at stake, too. Instead, teams will play for the Botham-Richards Trophy. Out with the old, in with the new. England’s new-ball pairing is next.