England wait on Ben Stokes' bowling fitness after delaying final team

England will take a late decision on the balance of their XI to take on Pakistan in the first Test at Emirates Old Trafford on Wednesday, after Joe Root acknowledged there was still a slight doubt about Ben Stokes’ readiness to feature as a front-line seam option.

Stokes produced one of the finest allround performances of all time in the second Test against West Indies, scoring 254 runs across two innings and chipping in with three vital wickets in England’s series-levelling victory.

However, he pulled up mid-over late in the game, after feeling a niggle in his quad, and played as a specialist batsman in the third Test, with Zak Crawley sitting out at No.3 to allow Chris Woakes to feature as an extra seamer at No.7.

Though Stokes has looked sharp in training in recent days, and bowled approximately 12 balls during middle practice on Monday before a further stint in the nets to Crawley, England’s final practice on the eve of the match was hampered by poor weather, which limited the management’s chance to assess Stokes’ match fitness.

“Luckily, we’re in a position where we can name the same squads in the same squad of 14 as the last game, but we still need to know a little bit more about where Ben’s at,” Root said. “Unfortunately because of the weather today he wasn’t able to bowl outside. So we will wait on that throughout the night and make a decision in the morning.

“With that squad of players, we’ve got a number of different options, we’ve got everything to cover the conditions and the pitch, and whatever that throws at us, we feel like we’ll have an answer for it.”

There’s no question that Stokes will feature in the match in some capacity, but Root admitted that his hunger for training, and a proven willingness to play on through pain, has sometimes created a problem when attempting to assess the extent of any given injury.

“It’s like telling him after nine overs on the bounce, not to bowl,” Root said. “Trying to take the ball out of his hand is very difficult. He’s so committed to the team and to the cause that he will always put his body on the line.

“But I suppose, the more he’s played, and the more mature he’s got, he has got better at understanding that there are limitations to what he can do sometimes, even though those limitations are probably further for him then a lot of other players.

“But he has definitely matured in that aspect and knows how important he is within our group, and what an asset he is moving forward. He’s definitely getting better looking after himself and it’s really important that we look after him as well.”

Root confirmed that Stuart Broad was a probable starter after his ten-wicket haul in the third Test against West Indies, adding that the team would be keen to select at least one of their two fastest bowlers, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood. And even though the exact balance of the team is still to be confirmed, he added that Stokes could play a role with the ball late in the game even if they took the cautious route initially.

“It’s a fantastic position to be in,” Root said. “We were forced into making a slight change in terms of balance of the side with Ben being unable to bowl in the last game and you can see how well that worked.

“So knowing that that works, and that we have had success with it, does fill everyone with a lot of confidence. Of course, Ben being able to bowl is huge for the team, and it shows how pivotal he is to the balance of the side, but if he’s not fit then we have other options, and a number of guys putting in fantastic performances, especially our seamers.”

“Even if he doesn’t start the game, it might be that he can bowl in the second innings,” Root added. “We might see him at some point throughout the game. We just need to make sure that we’re very clear on where he is physically.

“But you look at how he’s performed with the bat alone, and what you can do in the field, it’s quite evident that he poses a huge threat against any side at the moment. The runs he’s scored, the way he’s playing, and the different methods that you can play as well.

“He can absorb pressure for long periods of time now, and he’s shown as well that he can score at ten an over. So I’m sure that sides around the world will look at him as a batter alone, and think, ‘this guy has a serious plan. We want his wicket because if he gets going, and he gets in, he can really hurt us’.”

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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