Is it a case of no Stokes, no chance for England?

Alec Swann Columnist

By , Alec Swann is a Roar Expert

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    It can hardly be classed as the mother of all revelations to suggest England will be worse off without the presence of Ben Stokes.

    Take a high-class cricketer out of any team, whoever they are and whatever they do, and the collective, in the majority of circumstances, will inevitably suffer.

    Add to the equation the fact the current age is hardly comparable to, say, the late 1980s of Botham/Hadlee/Knan/Dev in the match-winning, seam-bowling allrounder stakes and it is only magnified.

    Teams crave the kind of player Stokes is as pick six batsmen and he would be one of them; pick four seamers and he’d be one of them. Factor in a keenness for the fight (ahem) and you have a pretty good deal.

    From where I’m sitting, and this probably goes for many, the chances of Stokes taking the field in Brisbane in six weeks’ time are negligible. Push me for an answer and I would say the 2017-18 edition of The Ashes won’t feature the Durham man at all.

    I hope he does but that’s with the cricket-only blinkers firmly in place. Given what’s transpired there just doesn’t seem any way he can be selected, police charges or not.

    Players have lost their jobs over far less and if nothing else, Stokes’ importance to the England set-up is highlighted by the fact he is now on the naughty step rather than in exile.

    Hypothetical, of course, but the fallout would’ve been interesting had a player on the fringes acted in a similar manner.

    But it is what it is and for now the tourists’ planning for the Gabba will focus on filling the gaping hole in the middle order/attack.

    Is it really, as has already been predicted in some quarters, a case of no Stokes, no chance?

    Yes, England’s odds on retaining the urn have lengthened – $4 for a series victory at the time of writing – and rightly so. They wouldn’t have started as favourites even with Stokes but I’m not so sure it will be the clean sweep the more pessimistic/optimistic (geography dictating) believe.

    Ben Stokes holds up the ball and grins after taking his sixth wicket

    (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    But that’s somewhere down the line with the no Stokes issue needing to be dealt with in the first instance. So what to do?

    A noticeable strength of the England team over the past couple of years has been the lower middle order positions of 6, 7 and 8. These slots are not often filled by players with multiple Test centuries but Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali have made for a dangerous triumvirate in positions, certainly in the case of the latter two, a touch too low for their ability.

    If the desire is to maintain a strong presence from four wickets down then Bairstow and Ali can shift up a place and Ben Foakes come in to keep wicket and bat at 8. This would obviously omit a bowler which leaves another option of Chris Woakes becoming the seam-bowling allrounder but batting at the foot of this particular trio.

    The other road to go down could be that of picking a sixth specialist batsman and employing a four-man attack. This approach served them well not too long ago but since Stokes showed up it hasn’t been needed.

    Ali works far better when he isn’t required to hold an end up and is used in a more offensive manner yet as part of a four-man unit there is a real danger he could get exposed which is the last thing they will want.

    It is likely, certainly at first, that Woakes will fill the vacancy with Ali possibly going up to 6 and Bairstow staying in his current position at 7. This covers the bases of retaining a five-man attack and a batting order that doesn’t stop too early.

    Given the hosts’ approach in the first Test, with a few predictable ‘enforcer’ articles already penned, will be more foot to the floor then ease through the gears, a lengthening of the tail won’t even be contemplated, especially given what occurred four years ago when Mitchell Johnson hit his straps.

    And with five bowlers looking like a necessity, the Woakes option is the only one which fits this particular bill.

    England do have a chance in the series, albeit one less than a few weeks ago, but an uphill task – and this isn’t taking into account the dismal record at the Gabba – has been made significantly more challenging.

    I hope you’re ready for it Chris.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.

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