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.
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