How the encouraging form of Chris Woakes could offset the loss of Ben Stokes

ENGLAND have picked up their first win of a long and gruelling Ashes campaign, but troubles remain for the team’s wobbly top order and mounting injury crisis.

For all the good that came from England’s 192-run victory, including the consistent form of Mark Stoneman at the top of the order, there is plenty to be concerned about for Trevor Bayliss and his troops.

It took barely half an hour on Saturday afternoon for Jimmy Anderson (3-12) and Craig Overton (3-15) to mop up the tail and it gave selectors some additional thinking time, which they’ll surely need ahead of their final tour game before the opening Ashes test at the Gabba on November 23.

England will play the same CA XI in a four-day tour match in Townsville starting on Wednesday, where they hope to be able to recall injured all-rounder Moeen Ali and rested paceman Stuart Broad.

England's paceman Chris Woakes has stepped up for the tourists.
England’s paceman Chris Woakes has stepped up for the tourists.Source: AFP

WOAKES IS THE NEW STOKES…

Another day goes by and the clarity England seeks on Ben Stokes’ Ashes availability is no closer to materialising.

But in Chris Woakes, England has someone willing and able to pick up the slack.

A fortnight ago Woakes declared he was ready to step up and take on more of the pressure should Stokes not turn out for England this summer.

On Thursday, he proved it’s not just talk.

Woakes is an excellent cricketer and, while he doesn’t have the combative demeanour and endless fire that makes Stokes so compelling, he does have a bucketload of talent and determination.

Woakes delivered an inspired spell of fast bowling on Thursday night to shred a shell-shocked Cricket Australia XI, finishing the day with figures of 4-17 having at one stage been 3-3 as the home side were reduced to 7-25.

The 28-year-old also owns a Test average of 32 with the bat and has nine first-class centuries to his name. They’re numbers that stack up not unfavourable compared to Stokes’ Test average of 35.72 and 14 first-class centuries.

As for Stokes’ prospects, we asked respected English scribe Dean Wilson of the Daily Mirror to give us the lowdown — given the recent murmurs have been that the tide is turning in the all-rounder’s favour.

“I would love to see him playing, he’s absolutely box office on the field — he delivers with bat, ball and character as well. He’s a real driving force in the dressing room,” Wilson told Fox Cricket’s Ashes podcast this week.

“As far as whether we will see him or not, I’m still pretty uncertain and if I was to give it a gut feeling I’d still say probably not.

“Beyond (whether Stokes is charged or not) the issue he’ll have to deal with of course is even if the police say he’s got no case to answer, he will have a case to answer by the cricket disciplinary commission at the ECB and I do feel as though they’re not going to take it lightly.”

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Ben Stokes’ Ashes campaign remains in considerable doubt.
Ben Stokes’ Ashes campaign remains in considerable doubt.Source: AFP

…BUT BAD BOY STILL BADLY MISSED

The clearest indicator of the tour so far of just how badly missed Ben Stokes will be came midway through England’s shocking collapse of 6-31 on Thursday night.

Against a modest and largely inexperienced CA XI attack, England crumbled against a 28-year-old player with a 14-game first class career and an average just a shade under 30.

Simon Milenko made his first class debut for Queensland three summers ago and hasn’t enjoyed figures as impressive since his 5/15 against Tasmania — where he now calls home — in his debut season.

Much has been made of England’s powerful middle-to-lower batting order, and its ability to dig the team out of trouble if the flimsy top-order doesn’t do the job.

But that steel and counterattacking quality was nowhere to be seen as Milenko went to town to pick up 5-34 — making the most of the favourable swing conditions and the pink ball.

Granted, Moeen Ali — who boasts 19 first-class centuries and a Test average of 34.66 — was absent due to injury.

But it was still a worrying sight for coach Trevor Bayliss as Dawid Malan (5), James Vince (29), Woakes (2) and Craig Overton (0) quickly followed Mark Stoneman and Joe Root (1) back to the sheds.

England's batsman Alastair Cook walks back to the pavilion following his dismissal in Adelaide.
England’s batsman Alastair Cook walks back to the pavilion following his dismissal in Adelaide.Source: AFP

TROUBLE AT THE TOP

ALASTAIR Cook looks a man out of sorts and definitely out of form.

Scores of 15 and 32 were unconvincing for the most part for England’s all-time leading runscorer in Test cricket.

At 33 years of age, questions will inevitably be asked if the game is close to passing Cook by.

The former captain has passed 50 just three times in his past seven Tests — albeit with one score of 243, against the West Indies, amongst that lot — and has scores of 10, 17, 11 and 23 in his past four Test innings.

And he’s not alone in struggling in the early stages of England’s tour.

Incredibly, Joe Root has also registered a pair of failures in his three knocks so far this tour.

The England captain backed up his first innings 58 with a lowly 1 in Adelaide, which followed a similarly unimpressive 9 against a Western Australian XI in Perth last weekend.

Root was trapped in front by fringe NSW paceman Gurinder Sandhu late on Thursday with a delivery which nipped in a touch off the pitch, a dismissal sure to have been noted by Australia paceman Josh Hazlewood.

Even Root’s half-century came with a worrying moment of madness as a rush of blood led to an uncharacteristic swipe at a stock leg spinner from debutant Daniel Fallins — described in commentary as a ‘brain fade’.

With question marks all over the batting line-up, Root is the one England would be expecting to count on.

They can’t afford any more brain fades from their intrepid leader.

INJURIES ARE CRUEL — AS ENGLAND KNOW ALL TOO WELL

The sight of 41-year-old Paul Collingwood diving to save a boundary during England’s tour match brought giggles from the social media world — what was the team’s fielding coach doing filling in on the field, wearing full kit?

But while it was a funny image, it did highlight just how bad England’s injury woes have become.

In addition to the absent Stokes, and the likes of Mark Wood and Toby Roland-Jones (who were both ruled out of the tour through injury), Moeen Ali has also been sidelined to start the campaign.

Meanwhile, Steve Finn left this week having torn cartilage in his left knee and Jake Ball briefly looked like joining him on the plane home when he suffered ankle ligament damage while bowling at Adelaide.

Ball’s tour isn’t over, however, although he is long odds to be involved in the remaining tour match in Townsville.

The tourists will be desperate for a change in fortunes when the Test series gets underway.

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