England’s indefinite suspension of Ben Stokes has thrown their plans for the Ashes into chaos just seven weeks ahead of the opening match of the series in Brisbane.
The 26-year-old was arrested following an incident in Bristol but was released without being charged. However, a police investigation is continuing, forcing the England and Wales Cricket Board into action before a legal decision comes down to determine Stokes’ fate.
The all-rounder has become England’s crucial player, providing balance to the side that was part of their downfall in their last series Down Under. The Three Lions have already come under criticism for their selection policy for the tour and now face a scramble to find a replacement for Stokes.
Joe Root’s men were underdogs for the series before the incident, but now face a tougher challenge Down Under which is reflected in the cricket betting odds backing them at 3/1 to win outright. The Three Lions will need a special effort from their quality players to atone for his potential absence.
Chris Woakes could be promoted up the order to solve the issue with the Warwickshire man acting as a genuine all-rounder at number eight. That would allow Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow to rise in the unit as well above their positions, with the wicket-keeper batting at six and Ali at seven.
It would not be out of the question for England to do that. Woakes averages in the low 30s with the bat, scoring three fifties in his 18 matches. The 28-year-old is more than capable of racking up the runs and he does have nine first-class hundreds to his name with a top score of 156 unbeaten.
Woakes was already a quality option to have coming to the crease at number nine, but his versatility could come to England’s rescue. There have been notions that Ali and Bairstow have been coming into bat too low following the struggles of the Three Lions’ middle order during the summer.
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Both men fared far better than their counterparts Tom Westley, Dawid Malan and Gary Ballance during the summer, and would relish the opportunity to express themselves higher in the order.
England would lose Stokes’ ability to change the game at number six, but in terms of the aggregate total of runs, they could atone for his absence, although his presence alone strikes fear into the hearts of opposing bowlers.
The Three Lions may pick an extra batsman for the tour to replace Stokes, but the route that they should go down is their bowling attack. Jake Ball and Craig Overton were selected in the squad ahead of Mark Wood, while Toby Roland-Jones was ruled out with a stress fracture.
Wood played during the summer but struggled for form against South Africa. However, on Australian pitches, he could have been the wildcard that offered a variation on England’s low 80mph pace attack.
The 27-year-old may get the chance now to prove the selectors wrong to return to the fold. His injury problems have limited his impact in the past, but as part of a five-match attack, Wood could be a potential match-winner for the Three Lions Down Under.