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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | First Test - By Nick Hoult CHIEF CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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

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