England are banking on Ben Stokes to take a starring role at next month’s Twenty20 World Cup after dropping a “gutted” Jason Roy and reshuffling their batting order.
England were willing to gamble on a host of fitness concerns – with Mark Wood and Chris Woakes both included in the 15-strong squad for Australia despite missing the entire domestic season through injury – but Roy paid the price for an extended lean streak.
He struggled throughout white-ball series against India and South Africa and a laboured performance for Oval Invincibles during The Hundred, where he made three ducks in six innings and averaged 8.5, effectively sealed his fate.
Director of cricket Rob Key, who chaired selection, revealed that Jonny Bairstow would move up to open alongside captain Jos Buttler, allowing star all-rounder Stokes to jump to number four.
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The Test captain has a surprisingly modest record in the shortest format, and has not played since March 2021, but will now have licence to shape the game from the engine room.
“The knock-on effect of everything we’re doing is that hopefully Ben Stokes has a more fulfilled role. I think that will get the best out of him in those big games,” explained Key.
“Having him come in later doesn’t get the best out of Ben Stokes. There’s a great line in his documentary where they say ‘the big moments find him’ and you want to give him that opportunity. I don’t think we’ve done that in T20 cricket.
“I’d like to get Ben up the order a little bit in T20 cricket, I feel generally we haven’t quite found his best role. All of a sudden Ben Stokes has a chance to influence a game.”
Key also expressed sympathy for Roy, who has been overtaken by Phil Salt and Harry Brook, adding: “It’s unfortunate timing, he’s hit a bad patch of form at the worst time.
“The game is about confidence as much as anything else. We’d be taking a gamble on him finding form. He was obviously very disappointed, I think ‘gutted’ was the phrase he used. He wanted to make sure this wasn’t the end.
“I certainly don’t think that this is the end of Jason Roy. I don’t see it by any stretch that his T20 career is over. But we felt the best combination at this time was Jonny and Jos, then we worked back from that point.”
England offered a glimpse of their future plans with a 19-man squad named for this month’s seven-match tour of Pakistan, including five uncapped players.
Will Jacks, whose stock has been on the rise during a breakout campaign with Surrey and Oval Invincibles, leads the new pack, which also includes Jordan Cox, Tom Helm, Luke Wood and a fit-again Olly Stone.
All of those will be looking to make the most of their opportunities, with Key admitting fitness problems in the World Cup group could open the door to late bolters, including travelling reserves Tymal Mills, Richard Gleeson and Liam Dawson.
Wood (elbow) and Woakes (shoulder and knee) have not played competitively since the Test tour of the West Indies in March, Chris Jordan (finger), Liam Livingstone (ankle) and Buttler (calf) are all currently injured and Reece Topley made an early exit from The Hundred to protect his body.
Moeen Ali will captain in Buttler’s absence during the early games in Pakistan.
Asked if there was lingering uncertainty over who would still be standing when England kick off their World Cup campaign against Afghanistan on October 22 in Perth, Key said: “Yeah, at this point in time that’s absolutely the case.
“The likelihood with Wood and Woakes is that they will start getting fit towards the back end of that Pakistan trip. They are back in with fingers crossed, that’s probably the best way you could say it. Let’s hope our luck changes in terms of injuries.
“But we sat down and looked at different scenarios – ‘what if he gets injured?’. Hopefully we have enough back up. We’ve got a chance in Pakistan to look at the next generation, the next cabs off the rank in some regard. You never know, they may find themselves going to the World Cup.”
England’s T20 World Cup squad: J Buttler (c), M Ali, J Bairstow, H Brook, S Curran, C Jordan, L Livingstone, D Malan, A Rashid, P Salt, B Stokes, R Topley, D Willey, C Woakes, M Wood.
Reserves: L Dawson, R Gleeson, T Mills.
England’s T20 squad to tour Pakistan: J Buttler (c), M Ali, H Brook, J Cox, S Curran, B Duckett, L Dawson, R Gleeson, T Helm, W Jacks, D Malan, A Rashid, P Salt, O Stone, R Topley, D Willey, C Woakes, L Wood, M Wood.