Absence of Ben Stokes felt strongly by England in first test

The Ashes hopes of the English cricket team copped a severe battering over a month before the series started, after Ben Stokes was charged with assault in September. The severity of the allegations gave England no choice but to suspend the all-rounder, and it has left a significant hole in their lineup for one of the biggest events in world cricket.

Ben Stokes’ role

Stokes is arguably the most important member of the English cricket team, playing a vital role with both bat and ball. As a quick bowler who can move it off the seam he is a huge part of the English bowling attack, but perhaps more important is the role he plays in their batting order.

Averaging 36 with the bat and with six centuries to his name, Stokes is a capable number six batsman. With Bairstow following at number seven, Moeen Ali is then able to bat at number eight, adding an element of protection to England’s shaky bottom three.

The impact of Stokes' absence

He has been replaced essentially by Chris Woakes, who is neither as good a bowler nor as good a batsman as Stokes. Woakes was not deemed good enough to bat in Stokes’ place at number six in the first Ashes Test, meaning Moeen Ali was promoted from eight to six.

The effect this had on the first Test was monumental. Ali contributed with the bat, but his absence from the tail meant that England’s last four was very shaky, and this proved costly. In both their first and second innings, wicketkeeper Johnny Bairstow was forced to play with the lower order, and the rash shots which led to his dismissals were a result of his need to score runs before the tail with whom he was batting were inevitably bowled out.

England was relatively well placed on day four of the test, boasting a lead of 159 runs in the third innings with four wickets still in hand. Were Stokes playing, they would still have had Moeen Ali to bat, and would likely have been able to push on to a lead of over 200 and put some pressure on the Australians.

Instead, the tail fell like dominos, and in a matter of three overs England were all out with a lead of just 169 runs. With very minimal pressure on them on a pitch which was still playing nicely, Australian openers Bancroft and Warner went out and chased down the target to win by 10 wickets.

Perhaps with a greater lead the same result would have occurred, but there is no doubt the absence of Ben Stokes is being felt enormously by England. Woakes was unable to contribute with the ball, with figures of just 1-113, and his inability to bat at six puts undue pressure on both Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow to bat with a very subpar tail.

What now?

With Stokes remaining in the United Kingdom awaiting trial, England expect to be without their star all rounder for the rest of the series. Unless Woakes can prove an ability to perform better with both bat and ball, England will face the same problems for the rest of the series.

Bairstow is too talented a batsman to continually be forced to bat with a very poor tail, forcing him to play rash shots which are purely a product of the circumstances in which he finds himself. Expect England to promote him ahead of Moeen Ali in the second test, but the same issues will still arise if the tail cannot learn to wag.

It now appears impossible to justify placing a bet on England, even at inflated odds, after they went down by 10 wickets in the first test even after the match seemed relatively evenly poised well into the fourth day.

The importance of Stokes to their team could not have been more clear in the first test, and without him for the rest of the series, expect Australia to continue winning, and comfortably.

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