Ben Stokes’ injury has caused a loss of balance in the England side… and their long batting tail is allowing Pakistan’s bowlers to take full advantage
- England’s con trick which worked against West Indies has not fooled Pakistan
- Chris Woakes’ previous nine Test innings produced eight scores of six or fewer
- On current form, the most reliable performer in the bottom five is Stuart Broad
- But if Broad’s batting is the answer, the question should be troubling England
Grown men still cry at the memory of an England tail made up of Andrew Caddick, Alan Mullally, Phil Tufnell and Ed Giddins against New Zealand at the Oval in 1999.
Their lower order here isn’t in the same category, but the con trick which worked against West Indies has not fooled Pakistan.
The problem stems from a nervousness about bowling Ben Stokes, who until 6.30 on Friday night had not sent down a ball since walking off mid-over on the dramatic final evening of the second Test against West Indies.
England’s lower order problem stems from a nervousness about bowling Ben Stokes
Until Friday night he had not sent down a ball since the second Test against West Indies
Characteristically, he struck twice in four overs, winning a marginal lbw decision against Mohammad Rizwan, then bouncing out Shaheen Shah Afridi.
But his injury has unbalanced the side to the extent that Chris Woakes — whose nine Test innings before this series had produced eight scores of six or fewer — goes in at No 7.
When he’s playing well, England can get away with it. It was from that position Woakes made 137 not out against India at Lord’s two summers ago.
More often than not, though, he is a good No 8. Instead, that position is being filled by Dom Bess, a gutsy operator but suited to a place lower. And No 9 is filled by Jofra Archer, whose Test average is eight.
Characteristically, he struck twice in four overs but his injury has unbalanced the side
No.7 Chris Woakes’ nine Test innings before this series produced eight scores of six or fewer
On current form, the most reliable performer in the bottom five is Stuart Broad, who has worked on his batting with Nottinghamshire coach Peter Moores and here thrashed 29 not out to take his Test average for the summer to a Bradmanesque 102. But if Broad’s batting is any kind of answer, then whatever the question is should be troubling England.
Against West Indies, when they declared three times in the last two Tests, Woakes at No 7 was an affordable luxury. The reason was simple: the West Indian attack had its moments, but lacked the left-arm angle of Afridi, the accuracy of Mohammad Abbas, the whippy pace of Naseem Shah and the magic of Yasir Shah.
And while West Indies bizarrely picked two bland off-spinners for the decider, Pakistan have opted for two exotic leggies. Between them, Yasir and Shadab Khan had first-innings figures of six for 79.
Just as crucially, Pakistan have played the braver cricket, batting first under grey skies after winning the toss in the knowledge that a dry pitch would help their spinners. Faced with the same decision twice, West Indies captain Jason Holder bowled twice — and lost twice. Stokes’s ongoing quadriceps niggle has unbalanced the bowling, too.
On current form, the most reliable performer in the bottom five is seamer Stuart Broad
But if Broad’s batting is any answer, then whatever the question is should be troubling England
Against a West Indies batting line-up that kept getting trapped on the crease, England could rotate Jimmy Anderson, Broad, Woakes and Archer, and — if conditions obliged — ask them to take turns pitching it up.
But Pakistan’s batsmen are cannier than that. And if Archer isn’t regularly bowling 90mph, the ball is old and the pitch flat, England’s attack looks precisely what Pakistan’s isn’t: much of a muchness.
Despite Archer’s latent menace, there is no one to do what Stokes did on the fourth afternoon of the second Test against West Indies, and bowl an 11-over spell of bouncers from round the wicket.
Regardless of his fitness, England will have to rejig their attack for the second Test. Anderson is likely to be rested, as per the pre-series plan, while there is a case for bringing in Mark Wood’s fresh pair of legs — untried since the first West Indies Test. It’s hard to see how England leave out Broad or Woakes, who has bowled beautifully once more, so Archer may have to sit out.
If Jofra Archer isn’t regularly bowling 90mph, England’s attack looks like much of a muchness
Then it gets tricky. Do England persist with Bess, who has seven wickets this summer at 46, or replace him with his Somerset team-mate Jack Leach? Do they opt for the variety of Sam Curran’s left-arm swing, and hope he can extend his home Test record to nine wins out of nine?
Or do they hope Stokes is fit to resume his place in a four-man seam attack, and recall Zak Crawley at No 3, and allow Joe Root to return to his favoured position at No 4? They could even bring back Crawley anyway.
Whatever the solution, England can’t afford to give Pakistan another boost by picking a batting line-up more top heavy than a weightlifter on steroids.
England will have to rejig their attack and will consider Dom Bess’ position in the side
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