England v Pakistan: Ben Stokes fitness causes home side to wait

By Stephan ShemiltBBC Sport
Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes, playing as a specialist batsman, made 20 in the third Test against West Indies
First Test: England v Pakistan
Venue: Emirates Old Trafford Dates: 5-9 August Start time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio 4 LW, BBC Sounds, and BBC Sport website & app with live text commentary & in-play highlights (UK only). Highlights each evening on BBC Two

England will wait on the fitness of all-rounder Ben Stokes before deciding on the make-up of their side for the first Test against Pakistan.

Stokes, 29, was unable to bowl in last week's third-Test win against West Indies because of a quad injury.

He bowled in the nets on Monday, but wet weather at Emirates Old Trafford meant he was only able to bowl indoors on Tuesday.

England's team will be announced at the toss on Wednesday.

"We're still a bit unsure on where he's at," England captain Joe Root told BBC Sport. "We have options, and that is very exciting.

"Regardless of what the conditions and the surface throw at us, we feel like we have all bases covered."

With Stokes unable to bowl against West Indies, England omitted batsman Zak Crawley and fielded four frontline seamers alongside spinner Dom Bess.

Bess did not bowl a ball in the 269-run win but, with warm weather forecast at least for the start of the Test in Manchester, the decision will probably be between Crawley and a pace bowler if Stokes cannot bowl.

Regardless of Stokes' fitness - he may be able to bowl more as the game progresses - England may again be faced with the difficult decision of which of their seamers to leave out.

Root said Stuart Broad is set to play and added that he would like the extra pace of either Jofra Archer or Mark Wood.

Therefore, the decision could be between James Anderson, England's all-time leading wicket-taker, and Chris Woakes, whose average of 22.53 in home conditions is the best of the current crop of seamers.

"In terms of selection, I couldn't be happier to have so many headaches," said Root.

"It's a very tough call, but it's exciting as well. You look at the amount of bowlers that are performing very well at the moment - we feel like we have a really good chance of taking 20 wickets and winning a Test match.

"If we are going to be the number one side in the world, we are going to have to have a battery of fast bowlers - guys who can come in and perform at any given stage."

Pakistan arrive with their own exciting pace attack, including 17-year-old Naseem Shah, who in February became the youngest bowler to take a Test hat-trick.

Watch: Sixteen-year-old Naseem becomes youngest bowler to take Test hat-trick

Left-armer Shaheen Afridi is 20, while the experienced Mohammad Abbas took match figures of 8-64 in Pakistan's win at Lord's two years ago.

"They are very talented," said Pakistan captain Azhar Ali. "They are not experienced as some other Pakistan bowling attacks from the past, but potentially they are right up there. They are ready.

"They have done really well, they have prepared really well. I am sure they will perform to their potential."

Pakistan have drawn their past two series in this country and have not lost a series against England anywhere in the world for 10 years.

They also include batsman Babar Azam, whose average of 75.90 since the beginning of 2019 is the highest of any player to have made at least 700 Test runs in that period.

"His performance in Test matches has improved massively in the last year or so," said Azhar. "People were thinking he was only a white-ball player, but he took the challenge and played with freedom and flair.

"I want him to relax and play his game. He's a very important player for us. I want him to be free of any pressure and enjoy his game."