England delay call on Stokes to leave Anderson sweating
Root faces tough decision if all-rounder passes fitness test Pakistan bowlers on par with best attacks of past, says Azhar
Ben Stokes will have a fitness test this morning to decide if he can resume his all-rounder’s role, leaving Joe Root facing the hardest selection call of his captaincy as England weigh up their fast-bowling options.
Stokes was unable to prove his fitness yesterday because rain in Manchester prevented outdoor training, complicating preparations for the first Test of three against Pakistan, which starts today at Emirates Old Trafford.
Instead, Stokes will bowl in the nets this morning to try out the thigh injury that restricted him to a specialist batting role in the final Test against West Indies last week.
Stokes bowled two overs in the middle with a coach in Manchester on Monday and 18 balls in the nets at three-quarters of his normal pace. If he has not improved today then England will not risk him as the fourth seamer and are likely to pick the same XI, again leaving out batsman Zak Crawley to accommodate a fifth specialist bowler.
But if Stokes proves he is capable of bowling the long spells that were so important in England’s seriesequalling win over West Indies two weeks ago then Root will have to choose which seamer to leave out.
England could omit Dom Bess, but will want a specialist spinner with hot weather forecast for the weekend and to balance the attack. Chris Woakes goes into the match on the back of taking five for 50 against West Indies and Root confirmed yesterday that Stuart Broad would play. He also reiterated that he wanted one of the genuinely fast bowlers, Jofra Archer or Mark Wood, in his attack.
It means that James Anderson could be left out on his home ground, or Woakes dropped if Stokes is fit. Anderson is 11 wickets short of 600 in Tests and with this being the last match of the summer at Emirates Old Trafford, he will be desperate to play.
“We still need to know a little more about where Ben’s at,” Root said. “He wasn’t able to bowl outside today so we will probably have to make a decision in the morning. We were forced into a slight change in terms of the balance of the side with Ben unable to bowl in the last game. To know that works and that we have had success with it does fill everyone with a lot of confidence.
“Of course Ben being able to do everything that he can do is huge for this team and it shows how pivotal he is in terms of the balance of the side. But if he’s not fit, we have other ways we can go.”
Anderson had a quiet two Tests against West Indies, taking only five wickets, but his control was immaculate, conceding just 2.3 runs an over, and Root will need that consistency against a batting line-up such as Pakistan’s.
“It’s a really tough call, but it’s exciting when you look at the number of great players performing well at the moment, we can go into the game full of confidence. You feel you have a really good chance of taking 20 wickets,” Root said. “Having played some competitive Test cricket will serve us well, give us a bit of a head start. Having good success on this ground in two Tests will fill us with confidence.”
Pakistan gave away little yesterday, naming a 14-man squad, but have hinted they are keen to pick two spinners, although that must be treated as kidology. The forecast for today is for rain and the pace of young quicks Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi alongside the skill of Mohammad Abbas, who took eight for 64 at Lord’s in 2018, is their best route to beating England.
“They are very talented,” Azhar Ali, the Pakistan captain, said. “They are not as experienced as some other Pakistan bowling attacks from the past, but potentially they are right up there. They have done really well, they have prepared really well. I am sure they will perform to their potential.”
England have lost spin bowling coach Jeetan Patel for the final two Tests as his visa allows him to work only as a player in this country. Patel, who is from New Zealand, will stay with Warwickshire instead.
In the spotlight: England will contemplate leaving leading wicket taker James Anderson (below) out on his home ground