How England may look without Ben Stokes

Klaus Nannestad Roar Guru

By , Klaus Nannestad is a Roar Guru

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    It was under 24 hours after releasing their 16-man squad for the Ashes that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) learnt Ben Stokes had been arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm.

    The Avon and Somerset police are still investigating the incident and looking for key witnesses, while the ECB have suspended the Test vice-captain indefinitely. They will likely wait for the investigation to conclude before deciding whether further action is necessary.

    But there is little doubt that during this time they have been considering how the side may cope without Stokes, and also who might replace him in the Ashes squad.

    A team will always suffer when they lose a talent like Stokes, who is quite easily the best pace-bowling all-rounder in the game at present. But the role Stokes plays in balancing England’s Test side would make his loss even more problematic.

    Firstly, Stokes’ bowling largely accommodates the other all-rounder in England’s Test side, Moeen Ali. Ali generally plays as England’s frontline spinner, and while he has had a very successful year with the ball, his form is often erratic.

    This makes Stokes’ role as the fourth seamer in the side particularly important, as his duties with the ball are somewhat similar to what Jacques Kallis’ was for South Africa. Kallis also bowled in a team without a consistently effective spinner, and it subsequently became his job to alleviate the other pacers’ workload.

    If the bowling depth Stokes offers is removed, the Australian batsmen will no doubt target Ali even more than they would otherwise. It should also be considered that England’s only other spin option is the young and inexperienced Mason Crane.

    With no genuine pace-bowling all-rounder in contention, England may then look to replace Stokes with a bowler, with Steven Finn, Liam Plunkett, or even Jamie Porter – who claimed the most wickets in county cricket this season – all in contention.

    But with the squad’s lack of spinning depth, they may be more inclined to look to the likes of Jack Leach, Adil Rashid, or Liam Dawson.

    The latter two would also be aided by the contributions they make with the willow, as England’s batting depth will also suffer with the loss of Stokes.

    In fact, in recent years England may have been the Test side with the most batting depth. This was seen in the 2015 Ashes when Ali managed to average 36.62 with the bat despite batting at eight.

    Stokes’ batting skills have been particularly important of late, as Mark Stoneman, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan have all struggled to adapt to Test cricket, with Westley failing to make the Ashes squad altogether, therefore putting pressure on Stokes to consistently contribute.

    England may be able to amend Stokes’ absence by selecting a batsman to replace him. The clear choice would be Liam Livingstone, who matches Stokes’ aggressive style, and has the impressive first-class batting average of 48.75.

    Tom Westley may also be considered for reselection, while Rory Burns and Nick Browne would be in contention after strong seasons domestically.

    Ideally, England would like a player like Paul Collingwood or Ravi Bopara to fill the void. Yet Collingwood is now 41, and will actually go to Australia as part of England’s coaching staff, while Bopara didn’t manage to fully take his chances at Test level, nor recapture the form that got him there.

    While it is debatable who the best player in England’s side is, Stokes is likely both the most important, and the most difficult to replace. The selectors are therefore unlikely to have much of their nails left to chew by the time his future is announced.