Ben Stokes was added to the England squad for the third Test against India less than two hours after being acquitted of affray at Bristol Crown Court. From a purely cricketing point of view, England now have the dilemma of how to fit him back into the team after the success of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran. Here are the main options
It would be harsh on Curran just two games after a Man of the Match award, but as the least experienced of the attack he is probably the most vulnerable. However, Trent Bridge is known as a venue that favours swing bowlers – James Anderson’s stats are outstanding at the ground – and that is Curran’s strength. His left-arm angle has also caused the India batsmen problems. This does, though, appear to be the likeliest route for Stokes’ inclusion. What of the last in, first out route? Chris Woakes was Stokes’ direct replacement at Lord’s. Nope. After a maiden Test century and four wickets, that won’t be happening with Woakes.
No spinner gamble
Adil Rashid had one of the quietest Tests of the all-time at Lord’s. Trent Bridge has the highest average for England spinners of all their home Test venues so there could be an argument whether they even need a spinner. There is rarely, however, a situation where five quicks does not feel like an overkill regardless of the venue. The luxury that England have – due to their number of allrounders – is always being able to field a balanced attack, so it would seem counter-intuitive to move away from that.
All the allrounders
It’s the era of the allrounder for England so how about playing them all? Trevor Bayliss has more than once said how he believes Stokes can be a Test No. 5 – and he played that role in Auckland earlier this year. This would entail leaving out Ollie Pope or Jos Buttler. Pope showed promise on his debut while Buttler was named vice-captain at the start of the series, so is clearly inked in as part of the side. Buttler’s omission would also mean a further reshuffle in the slips and leaving out Pope would have Jonny Bairstow batting at No. 4 and keeping wicket. There is one way around that: give Buttler the gloves and leave Bairstow to be a specialist batsman. That, though, won’t be happening anytime soon.
Something really radical
Linked to the option of taking the gloves off Bairstow would be a significant shake-up of the batting order. Promote Bairstow to open – the position he holds in one-day cricket with such success – in place of Keaton Jennings who has yet to make a substantial score since his recall, albeit in some tricky batting conditions. That would, as with the previous option, allow Stokes to fit back into the middle while also retaining Pope and Buttler. However, opening in Test cricket is a much different prospect to the one-day game where the white Kookaburra barely moves. And there’s that wicketkeeping debate.
Leave him out
Just because Stokes is in the squad doesn’t mean he has to play. He has been through an emotionally draining period in court. No doubt Stokes will think he’s ready to play, but sometimes for the sake of a player the decision has to be taken out of his hands. The flip side to that is that, with his court case looming, he did not lose an ounce of focus at Edgbaston in a matchwinning performance.