The likelihood is that Ben Stokes will miss England’s second Test against India, starting this coming Thursday at Lord’s.
The all-rounder, who was pivotal during the Three Lions’ 31-run first Test victory at Edgbaston, is due to appear at Bristol Crown Court on Monday having being charged with affray following a late-night brawl in the city’s streets in September 2017.
Stokes pleaded not guilty.
Should, as expected, the 27-year-old not feature, captain Joe Root and the England selectors have a huge void to fill in the side.
Batting at No6 and a key part of England’s four-pronged seam attack featuring James Anderson, Stuart Broad and lately Sam Curran, Stokes’ role is unrivalled and it is no mean task replacing him.
The man likely to come in though is Chris Woakes.
The bowling all-rounder has endured an injury-hit summer, recovering from what has been described as a chronic knee injury, but has this month been getting overs under his belt with the Birmingham Bears in the Vitality T20 Blast, and before that, with England A.
Reportedly, Woakes has been under close surveillance by the England selectors and been working with England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) staff to be ready when called upon.
Stokes’ likely absence has of course been known about for a long while now, and as such, it has given the ECB time to prepare.
Woakes featured in the Test match against Pakistan in June, taking four wickets, and would be a replacement as close to like-for-like as you can get.
While no-one is really capable of filling Stones’ role, he at least occupies the third or fourth seamer slot and is handy with the bat to keep the lower-middle order strong.
Moeen Ali was potentially another option but is likely to be overlooked.
Woakes’ expected inclusion will be the only enforced change England have to make although the hosts could consider making an alteration in the batting ranks, with the out-of-nick Dawid Malan missing out.
The Middlesex batsman scored just 28 runs in two innings at Birmingham, and also shelled crucial chances in the slip cordon – dropping Virat Kohli twice in the first innings (and we all know how that ended).
Low scores at Edgbaston have followed an indifferent series against Pakistan and a quiet one against New Zealand before that.
England tend to stick with players and give them a chance to perform, but given Malan’s next Test could be his 16th, is this the time to change?
Another reason to drop Malan would be to alter the make-up of the batting card, which currently consists of seven left-handers (out of 11 batsmen).
Ravi Ashwin’s stranglehold on lefties is well-documented and he continued his ruthless streak in getting them out in the first Test, with opener Alastair Cook notably being on the wrong-end of two beautiful deliveries and clean bowled in the process.
While Lord’s isn’t traditionally a haven for spinners, a hot week to come in the UK means the pitch in north London will be dry and likely to suit spin and some turn more than it usually does.
England will be worried that Ashwin will pose the same threat to their left-handers again and bringing in a right-hander to even-up the balance, making it a 6-5 split, would make sense.
In that respect, Ollie Pope, the 20-year-old Surrey prodigy could be the next cab off selector Ed Smith’s rank to fill the gap as a rightie in the middle-order, with the other batsmen set to be parachuted up a position.
He would be a pick for the future as well as now while Worcestershire’s Joe Clarke is another on the radar and has England Lions experience.
Either way, it looks like they could make a change for Malan.
Adil Rashid will though retain his place after justifying his selection at Edgbaston. The leg-spinner was a beneficiary of some shrewd captaincy by Root to bowl him at the right time in the second innings.
“Keep Test cricket alive for the next generation of fans”, a young Indian fan’s banner read in the crowd at Edgbaston.
Here is hoping his wish is fulfilled and the next generation of cricket lovers get the chance to see a match of this stature in years to come.
There must be something in the water at Birmingham.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, at the same ground, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was the catalyst as England secured a nail-biting two-run second Ashes Test victory over Australia, setting them on their way to reclaiming the tiny urn under skipper Michael Vaughan.
Most in-the-know observers describe the 2005 series as the best of all time and that Edgbaston Test has a strong case for being England’s most famous win.
While there is perhaps not too much debate about that, the triumph of Joe Root’s men against India in the Midlands on Saturday lunchtime offered the truest of throwbacks to that epic contest with the Baggy Green.
For starters, in both Tests, everything rested on the outcome of day four.
All those years ago, Australia went out that morning needing 107 runs to clinch the match while England required just the two wickets. Fast-forward time and the Men in Blue were in a healthier but not too dissimilar position.
India were 110-5 overnight going into Saturday, chasing 84 runs to seal the opener as opposed to the hosts’ requirement of five more wickets.
Each Test of course resulted in successes for England but Edgbaston Part II, like its first installment, will be remembered for its blockbuster moments and fairytale plotlines more so than the outcome.
Ben Stokes’ spellbinding second-innings offering with the ball was one of those moments. The all-rounder captured the key wicket of Indian icon Virat Kohli, one of three scalps for him on the final day, to virtually end the visitor’s hopes of winning the Test.
Arms up and stretched out à la Flintoff when he dismissed Australian batsman and captain Ricky Ponting in ’05, Stokes then sunk to his knees in much the same way as the Lancastrian did.
Whether or not Stokes had tried to mimic Flintoff’s celebration makes no end as it was his way, like Freddie, of letting out his raw emotion and showing just what playing for his country means to him.
The calibre of wicket-taking victims in each instance added to the drama and on both occasions the boisterous Edgbaston crowd created a feeling of reverberation which is hard to usurp.
Ponting, departed for nought, eventually edging behind to Geraint Jones after a thorough examination from the gun all-rounder in a quite brilliant over spell, in what was a crucial juncture of the Australia second innings chase, with a target of 282 looking iffy from that point.
Equally, with the way Stokes found seam and nip on a engaging cricket pitch to move the ball back into Kohli’s pads, it was an lbw dismissal of on-par ramifications.
Ever since he broke through into the England set-up in the summer of 2011, New Zealand-born Stokes was tagged with the Flintoff comparison. There is no doubt both are big players for the big occasion but Stokes is a far better all-rounder, with bat and ball.
He has already proven that with his consistency in all three formats over time whereas injury put pay to Flintoff ever really coming close to repeating his Ashes feats again.
That said, Stokes, despite being recognised as England’s best player, will probably never be as revered as Flintoff, who became a people’s champion with the down-to-earth way he went about his business.
He also benefitted immensely from the fact the 2005 Ashes series was played out to a mass audience on terrestrial TV in the UK, inspiring thousands to take up the game. Now, cricket is pay-per-view in England.
Stokes will probably play no part in the second Test at Lord’s this coming Thursday as he is due to appear at Bristol Crown Court on Monday having being charged with affray following a late-night brawl in the city’s streets in September last year.
He has plead not guilty and will vow to clear his name in court, leaving England likely Stoke-less for now.
You do get the feeling though that his last day star-turn with the ball, guiding England to victory, has set the platform for his team to go on and dominate this Test series.
Joe Root glowed with pride at England’s skill and resilience as they edged a thrilling win over India in their landmark 1,000th Test.
Root, the orchestrator of an outstanding collective which prevailed by 31 runs on the fourth morning at Edgbaston, rightly proclaimed a wonderfully absorbing contest as a “fabulous advert” for Test cricket.
It was an important staging post too for his captaincy, and crucial for his development in the role.
He is still just a year into his tenure, but after such a chastening Ashes winter it said plenty that England held their nerve to go 1-0 up on the fourth morning of this series opener.
After Ben Stokes (four for 40) had turned the outcome with a spell of three for 15 – including the prized wicket of Virat Kohli – Root had praise for his premier all-rounder, 20-year-old aspirant Sam Curran after his man-of-the-match performance and old-stagers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Asked if it all added up to the best match he has played in, the Yorkshireman said: “It’s up there.
“It is a fabulous advert for the game of cricket, isn’t it?
“Anyone that says it’s dead can just come and watch this on repeat. What a game!
“I’m still trying soak it all in, but it was a fabulous team performance.”
India needed 84 runs from their last five wickets, with Kohli unbeaten on 43, when they resumed on Saturday morning.
Root said: “I spoke to the boys at the start, and said ‘Just go out there with that belief, desire that you have done the previous two days in the field’ – and they didn’t disappoint.
“I couldn’t be prouder of that.
“That’s all you can ask as a captain … the guys to do as you ask, and under pressure to stay as calm as we did.
“Whenever you play in close games like this, you desperately want to be on the right side of it for so many reasons – but one thing that really stands out for me is that inner drive and determination from this group of players.”
Kohli appeared to be taking the game away, but Stokes had him lbw for 51 in his first over, added a second wicket three balls later and finished the match when Hardik Pandya was caught-behind to leave India 162 all out.
“Stokesy’s got that knack, hasn’t he?” Root said.
“He wants to be involved in the big moments of the game, and he did just that today.”
On Monday morning, Stokes must report to Bristol Crown Court after pleading not guilty to affray.
But Root confirmed no one could have guessed there was anything but cricket on his mind here.
“Ben seems himself,” he said.
“He’s gone about things exactly how he was in every other game – and I don’t see that ever changing.
“When he turns up to practise or as soon as he puts on an England shirt he’s so dedicated to this group of players, to this team – and whatever happens, he’s going to be a big part of this dressing room.”
Stokes told Sky Sports that England’s performance had perhaps “closed a few mouths” following recent criticism.
His captain compared Curran’s youthful “steeliness” to Stokes’.
Curran’s father Kevin was an international all-rounder who collapsed and died while out jogging five years before sons Tom and now Sam began their England careers.
His youngest son said: “I was still young when it did happen, but I’ve got a very strong family – both my brothers, we’re all very close, and my mum’s very supportive of all our cricket
“It has been pretty tough.
“(But) I think it made us stronger as a family and me stronger as a person.
“I think I’ve learned as I’ve grown up, with two very competitive brothers in the back-garden cricket … ‘Don’t give them anything!’, and I try to take that on to the pitch.”
Kohli, meanwhile, must regroup in time for next week’s second Test at Lord’s – despite his personal heroics here.
He said: “There were a couple of times when we made comebacks and I felt that we showed character there – but a team like England will not let you do that every day of a Test match, and we realised that on the final day.
“We could have applied ourselves better, but I’m still proud of the fight we showed.”