Ashes: England turn to Ben Stokes despite injury risk as depleted side prepares for Fifth Test

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  • Ben Stokes
    Ben Stokes
    Cricketer (born 1991)
  • Jonny Bairstow
    Jonny Bairstow
    English cricketer (born 1989)
  • Rory Burns
    English cricketer (born 1990)
  • Joe Root
    Joe Root
    English cricketer (born 1990)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

England appear ready to risk the fitness of Ben Stokes as a specialist batter in a team containing debutant Sam Billings and recalled opener Rory Burns for the Fifth Ashes Test.

Stokes, alongside Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, was one of three players to pick up injuries in the drawn Fourth Test.

All-rounder Stokes suffered a side strain bowling on day two at Sydney, but scans revealed it was — in his words — “a low-grade tear” that was not as serious as first feared.

He batted through the pain twice, making 66 and 60 to help England save the game, and has declared his desire to play in the day-nighter in Hobart, starting Friday. The risk is Stokes does further damage, jeopardising his availability for March’s tour of the Caribbean.

Captain Joe Root said no decisions had been made on the make-up of the side, but it appears Stokes will play if he does not aggravate the injury at training on Thursday. Stokes had a very low-key training session today, only batting against throwdowns in the nets.

Buttler has flown home with a broken left index finger and will be replaced behind the stumps by Billings. Bairstow’s participation appears more doubtful than Stokes’.

He suffered a crack in the top of his right thumb when hit by Pat Cummins during his first-innings century at Sydney and batted and fielded at training today, but was in discomfort. If he cannot play, Ollie Pope, who he replaced after two Tests, is favourite to come back into the side.

Root said Stokes and Bairstow had to prove “they are physically in a place where they can get through five days of hard cricket”.

“It’s alright being fit to play, but you’ve got to be fit to perform — and that’s what we’ve got to work out,” he said.

Burns was dropped two matches into this series, having been dismissed by the first ball of the Ashes at the Gabba. Graham Thorpe, the assistant coach, said he needed to adjust his technique if he wanted a Test return but, while that work has begun in the nets, Burns looks likely to get a lifeline because of Haseeb Hameed’s run of six successive single-figure scores. To add injury to insult, Hameed appeared to struggle physically at nets today.

Stokes playing as a batter only could spell bad news for spinner Jack Leach, just as he found a way into the series with four wickets in Sydney. That was the only time in three Tests that England’s performance had allowed Leach a second-innings bowl. In the first innings, Leach had twin centurion Usman Khawaja put down at slip on 28 by Root.

The pink ball and a green wicket is likely to result in England concluding their four-man attack should be all seam.

Mark Wood will be among that number, while Ollie Robinson is likely to return from a shoulder injury. Stuart Broad is more likely to play than James Anderson, while Chris Woakes is in contention to return, too. Woakes could possibly bat No7, offering Leach a route into the side.

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