The shock news of Jack Leach’s Ashes-ending injury has left England scrambling to replace their front-line spin bowler and triggered questions about whether they can afford to stick with a plan for ‘hard and fast’ pitches.
With Ben Stokes keen to take the fight to Australia while staying true to their new approach under Brendon McCullum, the loss of Leach – who has bowled more overs under Stokes than any other bowler – is a sizeable blow.
Stokes and McCullum face a conundrum in whether to select a replacement spin bowler for next week’s first Test at Edgbaston, or change tack and go for an all out pace attack and rely on Joe Root as an alternative.
Here, Telegraph Sport’s team of cricket writers select their team for the opening Test of the Ashes.
Crawley, Duckett, Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Wood, Robinson, Anderson
After the Leach injury England should revisit their flat and fast pitch request, leave a little grass on the Edgbaston surface and go all out seam, playing on Australia’s weakness against the moving ball.
Moeen Ali should come into the squad and work on his bowling until he is ready to play at Lord’s. Chris Woakes was left out against Ireland but that was to have a look at Josh Tongue, who is not needed if Mark Wood plays. Woakes and Ollie Robinson can bowl the bulk of overs, taking the pressure off James Anderson and his groin injury, leaving Wood to bowl in short sharp bursts.
Duckett, Crawley, Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Robinson, Broad, Anderson
Old Trafford in 1956, where Jim Laker took 19 wickets, and Headingley 1972: two examples when England shamelessly/pragmatically produced the pitch they needed to beat Australia. Edgbaston now has to be a greentop on which England’s seamers – including Woakes for Leach – will pitch fuller than Australia’s.
Then Moeen, after playing the four-day game for Warwickshire v Notts, to return for the last four Tests. He did a great job at number eight in the 2015 Ashes – a rapid 293 at 36 – or might even be opening, as well off-spinning, by the Oval.
Crawley, Duckett, Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes (c), Bairstow (wk), Broad, Wood, Robinson, Anderson
A personal view remains that James Vince – averaging 79.5 this Championship summer and 175.5 in five T20 Blast games – could have thrived as an opener in this regime. But there is no chance of any changes in England’s top seven now.
Instead, the question concerns the make-up of England’s attack. With Leach’s injury and Stokes only having bowled one over in all cricket since February, picking four seamers, and then using Root if needed against Australia’s four left-handers, would seem to be a fairly straightforward decision. The tail is a slight concern – one reason, together with his stellar home record, why Woakes is an attractive option – but the logic of beginning the series with England’s four best seamers is hard to ignore.
Crawley, Duckett, Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes, Bairstow, Dawson, Broad, Wood, Anderson
There is a strong case for going with an extra seamer, especially given England like chasing. But Leach has been such a key part of England’s selection plans that they will surely replace him. Anderson looks a bit closer to fitness than Robinson, who can wait until Lord’s.
Liam Dawson might seem an unsexy choice, but he offers a like-for-like replacement for Leach, and is in form with both bat and ball [as much as that is possible for a spinner in early season]. Had Leach gone down in Pakistan, England would have called on Dawson. His batting would shorten England’s tail, and is punchy enough to suit Bazball.
I like Will Jacks and Rehan Ahmed but it’s early days, and surely too risky. Jacks’ case is hurt by the presence of Root’s off-spin, too.