The immediate future of Ben Stokes remains uncertain following the incident in Bristol where he was allegedly involved in a street brawl that left a man in hospital and Stokes with a fractured finger. He is currently part of the Ashes squad, but England will have to start making plans for him not being there. That is easier said than done for a world-class allrounder. What are their options?
The batting route
While the balance Stokes brings to the side is a huge asset – allowing a five, or even six-man attack – it is his batting that has been most important to England in recent times. He is, without doubt, one of the best four batsmen in the side alongside Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. With a vulnerable top order, Stokes’ runs – and importantly the intent he brings – would need to be compensated for. In terms of last-man dropped, Tom Westley would be in the frame but England might have to think outside the box. Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone is a dynamic batsman – even though he struggled in his two T20I appearances against South Africa – and can bowl some handy spin, while another option could be Jos Buttler for similar reasons. Buttler played as a specialist batsman during the Test series in India. Another player who can provide some overs is Liam Dawson, who started the series against South Africa.
The bowling route
On the hard, flat pitches of Australia, on days that can reach 40 degrees, a fifth frontline bowling option can be a huge helping hand to spread the workload. Admittedly, England didn’t have that in 2010-11 but they did have Graeme Swann able to tie up an end, and allow three quicks to rotate, a role that Moeen Ali is less suited to. This England team are not short of batting down the order, so Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali could move up a spot each with Chris Woakes then at No. 8 where he is more-than capable of batting. That would then open a slot for an extra bowler. Jake Ball and Craig Overton are in the squad as is legspinner Mason Crane. Heading the list to be added to the party – in the absence of injured pair Toby Roland-Jones and Mark Wood – would be Steven Finn (he claimed 8 for 79 in the penultimate game of the county season) and Liam Plunkett who has impressed in ODIs although he only played two Championship games for Yorkshire this season.
A change of gloves
If England are without Stokes they will have to be very smart about their resources. Plan A is basically out of the window. So one option they could take is to move Bairstow up to No. 5 and take the gloves off him, bringing the uncapped Ben Foakes in at No. 7 as the keeper-batsman. Bairstow will not want to lose the gloves – and would argue he could do both roles higher up – but it would be hugely demanding. Bairstow at No. 5 would, in a roundabout way, fill one of the troubling top-order slots. Moeen could then move to No. 6 with four bowlers below Foakes meaning there remains a five-man attack.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.