So how do England get Ben Stokes back in?
While all the Serious Journalists write their Very Important Pieces about what is to be done with Ben Stokes – and, to a lesser extent Alex Hales – we’re far more interested in the more immediate and fun question of how he fits back into the England team for the third Test.
Every single option available is harsh/hilarious/ridiculous in its own way. Let’s look at them.
Option 1: Don’t pick Ben Stokes
This is at once the most obvious and most ridiculous of all. If you’re going down this road then don’t put him back in the squad at all. At least that way you can dress it up as being “too soon” after the ordeal of the trial or some such. Perhaps that line could just about still be wheeled out after “assessing” him over the days before the Test, but it remains tough to suggest having declared him available that Stokes isn’t a more effective Test cricketer than all but four, at a push five, of the XI that played at Lord’s. Two weeks ago England took on a whole heap of flak over a hard-nosed (and correct) desire to select the strongest XI even if that meant a difficult, unpopular or politically awkward selection. Don’t back down now, Ed.
Option 2: Drop Sam Curran
Harsh. Very, very harsh. Curran was man of the match in the first Test and while his contribution may not have been as statistically stand-outish as Chris Woakes’ at Lord’s it was more integral to the result. He’s also a left-arm option – something England have almost never had – and a genuine swing bowler. This Test match is played at Trent Bridge, remember. This is probably still the likeliest option, though, with Curran very much the junior member of the attack.
Option 3: Drop Chris Woakes
Last in, first out. Woakes was Stokes’ direct replacement at Lord’s, so should make way now. It’s horses for courses. We all know by now about Woakes’ frankly silly stats at Lord’s, but Stokes has a bowling average of 24 here and Woakes hasn’t even taken a single Test wicket at Trent Bridge. That’s just maths.
Option 4: Drop Ollie Pope
The reason this whole caper is such a delicious puzzle is the fact that England right now possess a whole bunch of all-rounders who are excellent but only two established batsmen. England have handed debuts to 11 specialist bats since discarding Kevin Pietersen in 2014. Woakes, Stokes and Moeen Ali (and for that matter both Curran brothers and Dom Bess) all have better Test batting averages than 10 of that 11. And the odd one out is Haseeb Hameed, who bust his thumb and then literally forgot what batting even is and is only now starting to slowly piece it back together. Ollie Pope was the latest to get an opportunity at Lord’s, and there’s every chance he’ll be more Root than Westley after a Khawajaesque 28. But right now is Pope really more likely to influence a Test match innings with the bat than Stokes is?
Option 5: Drop Keaton Jennings
A banter option. If England are going to have openers who don’t score any runs, then they might as well not bother with proper openers at all. Play to your strengths, which, as we’ve established, is loads and loads of all-rounders. Put Woakes there if you like, couldn’t hurt. He played the second new ball at Lord’s well enough. Give Buttler the gloves and promote Bairstow if you want, why not. Or promote Buttler, he does it in T20s.
Option 6: Drop Adil Rashid
The banter option.
Option 7: Drop Jos Buttler
Because a specialist number-seven batsman with four first-class hundreds in 140 innings seems a smidge self-indulgent when Woakes, Stokes, Curran and Moeen Ali are all available, even if that specialist number-seven batsman is as stupendous as Jos.
Option 8: Drop Joe Root
He doesn’t even get 50s now.
Option 9: Drop Alastair Cook
See Option 5.
Option 10: Drop James Anderson or Stuart Broad
Well, we wanted to give them a rest, didn’t we? Bagsy not the one to tell either of them they’re not playing against this batting line-up on a ground where between them they’ve got 100-odd Test wickets at 20s.
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