Ben Stokes' fitness uncertainty forces Joe Root into late selection dilemma

Joe Root will wait on a late fitness test for Ben Stokes before deciding on the make-up of his England XI for the series opener against Pakistan on Wednesday. If the all-rounder is fit to bowl, a headache resurfaces over which seamer to leave out.

England have grappled with their bulging bowling stocks all summer but were able to accommodate an extra quick during the series-sealing third Test victory against West Indies last week when a thigh injury forced Stokes to play as a batsman.

The 29-year-old bowled in training on Monday but rain in Manchester on Tuesday prevented a repeat. Now Root and the head coach, Chris Silverwood, must decide whether Stokes can be relied upon as a fourth seamer and, if so, who makes way for Zak Crawley to bolster the batting at No 3.

Root said: “Absolutely there’s a temptation to stick [with an unchanged team]. Luckily we are in a position where we will name the same squad of 14 as the last game. We still need to know a little bit more about where Ben’s at.”

The England captain went on to state that he still wants pace at his disposal – both for this match and to foster an attack for all conditions – meaning either a reprieve for Jofra Archer, despite a low-key return last week, or a return for Mark Wood.

And so with Stuart Broad in the form of his life, Chris Woakes fresh from a five-wicket haul and a forecast of hot weather necessitating a spinner in the shape of Dom Bess, it may be that Jimmy Anderson, newly turned 38 and hoping to play on his home ground of Old Trafford, is the one sweating on the fitness of Stokes.

Root said: “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. As a player and as a team, you feel you have a really good chance of taking 20 wickets.”

Asked if the competition for spots could cause friction in the camp, Root replied: “That’s part and parcel of professional sport and if we’re going to become the No 1 side in the world we’re going to have to have a battery of fast bowlers and guys who can come in and perform, especially if we are going to play back-to-back Test matches.

“It’s important we have options and can rotate if guys are sore or stiff. For the longevity of this team it’s important we look after our fast bowlers and make smart decisions at the right time, and we’ll get judged on results. It’s tough but good tough.”

How the teams could line up for the first Test at Emirates Old Trafford, 5-9 August

Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zac Crawley, Joe Root (capt), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson

Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (capt), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah

Second Test 13-17 August
Third Test 21-25 August
The second and third Tests both take place at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton

As well as looking to buck a recent trend of losing series openers – being three Tests into the summer and fresh from a mini-break at home should help here – Root admitted to being wary of a Pakistan attack that will throw up different challenges to those encountered against West Indies.

Mohammad Abbas has already shown his prowess with the Dukes ball – both through his eight wickets at Lord’s in 2018 and 79 at 21 apiece during two seasons at Leicestershire – while the left-arm pace of Shaheen Afridi and Yasir Shah’s leg-breaks present new angles to consider.

And then there is Naseem Shah, the 17-year-old who bowls express pace. Question marks about the validity of his age have been strongly rebutted by his childhood coach, Suleiman Qadir, who cited bone testing performed by the Pakistan Cricket Broad, but there have been none surrounding his potential to be a star.

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Root said: “I haven’t spoken to anyone who has faced [Naseem] but I’ve watched a lot of footage. He looks an exciting prospect, very skilful and good pace. You just have to get out there and try and gauge it.

“You can speak to people as much as you want but until you get a feel for it you don’t know what you’re up against. It’s important we just start well against him as a group, have an idea of what he’s trying to do and play every ball on merit.”


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