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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Third Test - By Nick Hoult

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.

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