The 5 biggest questions facing England, from James Anderson’s fitness to who should open

Healthy Body

England have named their squad for the opening Test of the summer against Ireland at Lord’s, but a month before the start of the Ashes at Edgbaston on 16 June there are still important questions that need answering ahead of the huge series against Australia.

How will England cope without injured duo Jofra Archer and Olly Stone? What to do if James Anderson goes lame? Is Ben Stokes even going to be able to bowl?

And that’s before you start to debate who should open the batting…

Here, we take a look at some of the key questions facing England and coach Brendon McCullum, a month before their Ashes campaign begins in Birmingham.

Will James Anderson be fit?

News of Anderson’s groin strain playing for Lancashire last week was the last thing England needed. But all the signs are he will be okay.

After all, he’s in the squad for the Ireland Test that starts on 1 June and a planned media appearance at Old Trafford on Wednesday is still going ahead – suggesting Anderson is relaxed about the issue. Rob Key, England’s director of cricket, was also positive when asked about Anderson’s chances of being fit for the first Ashes Test.

“There’s nothing I’m hearing to suggest that he won’t,” he said. “He’s up for selection for the Ireland Test so put that forward a couple of weeks from there you expect him to be available for selection for the first Ashes Test. He’s got a pretty mild groin strain. I’ve spoken to Jimmy, he’s not concerned.”

Is Ben Stokes going to be able to bowl?

England’s captain struggled badly with the chronic injury to his left knee during the last series in New Zealand. Three months on and he has bowled one over for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.

So will he be able to chip in with the ball during the Ashes? It looks doubtful but Key says: “I have no concerns about that. Every time I speak to him he’s thinking about the Ashes.

“As we’ve seen for the last however long, he’s been bowling and hobbling back, but then he’ll bowl a 12-over spell of bouncers on a flat pitch and help us get wickets that actually end up winning you the game. As we sit here now, I’m expecting more of the same.”

Should Zak Crawley have been dropped instead?

Much had been made of potentially promoting Stokes to opener and dropping Crawley, whose form has been poor for months. But it was never on the table. “We didn’t discuss that at all to be honest,” said Key, before adding that dropping Foakes – “something we agonised over for quite some time” – was the only option.

Questions have also been raised about Key’s Kent connections and his answer as to why England are sticking with Crawley would have made even the most brazen of political spin doctors blush.

“We’re not so much down the road of averages and pure stats,” he said. “Actually it’s about how do you impact games of cricket?” Probably not greatly if you average 27.60.

England squad vs Ireland

  • BA Stokes (captain)
  • JM Anderson
  • JM Bairstow
  • SC Broad
  • HC Brook
  • Z Crawley
  • BM Duckett
  • DW Lawrence
  • MJ Leach
  • OJD Pope
  • MJ Potts
  • OE Robinson
  • JE Root
  • CR Woakes
  • MA Wood

Was making Jonny Bairstow wicketkeeper the right call?

Bairstow’s four centuries and average of 75.66 last summer lit the fuse under the Bazball revolution. That came with him as a specialist batter at No 5.

But with Harry Brook gorging on runs in his absence in that position, Bairstow will move down to seven and take the wicket-keeping gloves. Such a move is fraught with risk but Key is confident Bairstow will be able to replicate his 2022 form.

“We are obviously pretty confident otherwise we wouldn’t have done it but the answer is you never know,” he said. “But last summer we saw a Jonny Bairstow we probably haven’t seen before as a batsman. Ben and Brendon have got the best out of Jonny and I expect them to do the same again.”

Do England still want flat pitches despite losing express pace options in Jofra Archer and Olly Stone?

Stokes admitted last month he wants pitches to suit fast bowlers and his dynamic, explosive batting-line-up.

Have injuries to Archer – sidelined for the summer – and Olly Stone – at least out of the first Ashes Test – changed that?

Not so, says Key. “I think ultimately we want surfaces that allow for a style of play we want to play – an entertaining form of cricket,” he said. “We just want this series to live up to its billing. So, no, we haven’t changed our mind on that.”

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