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Cricket news - England: Three quicks or four? It's all down to Stokes' fitness

England's entire bowling combination depends upon the bowling fitness of their all-rounder, Ben Stokes

England's entire bowling combination depends upon the bowling fitness of their all-rounder, Ben Stokes

Joe Root confirmed that England have yet to decide on the balance of their side for the first Test against Pakistan, which begins on Wednesday (August 5), and will only do so once they have a clearer idea of whether Ben Stokes will be fit enough to bowl.

The-all rounder tweaked a quad muscle in the second Test against the West Indies last month and played in the deciding match as a batsman only. Stokes bowled two overs in the middle and then in the nets to Zak Crawley during training at Emirates Old Trafford on Monday (August 3) without any issues but wet weather in Manchester on Tuesday meant he was unable to bowl outside. As a result, England have not yet been able to adequately assess his fitness.

"Luckily, we're in a position where we can name the same squads in the same squad of 14 as the last game, but we still need to know a little bit more about where Ben's at," Root said. "Unfortunately because of the weather today he wasn't able to bowl outside. So we will wait on that throughout the night and make a decision in the morning. With that squad of players, we've got a number of different options, we've got everything to cover the conditions and the pitch, and whatever that throws at us, we feel like we'll have an answer for it."

In the third Test against West Indies, when Stokes was unable to bowl, England selected Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes as a four-man attack in addition to the spin of Somerset's Dom Bess. They could adopt the same balance once again if Stokes cannot bowl but if he can, there will be room for only three quicks as Bess looks set to be included given the surfaces for the two Tests against West Indies at Old Trafford spun and the hot weather forecast in the north west for the rest of this week.

If Stokes is fit, England will have a difficult decision to make. Each of the six fast-bowlers in the squad have strong claims to be included but three of them will be disappointed. Root confirmed that Stuart Broad, who averaged 10 with the ball against West Indies, would be likely to play while he also said he wanted an express pace option which means one of Archer and Mark Wood is likely to be included. That would appear to leave Anderson and Woakes fighting it out for one place, with Sam Curran unlikely to force himself in front of either of those two at present.

"It's a fantastic position to be in," Root said. "We were forced into making a slight change in terms of balance of the side with Ben being unable to bowl in the last game and you can see how well that worked. So knowing that that works, and that we have had success with it, does fill everyone with a lot of confidence. Of course, Ben being able to bowl is huge for the team, and it shows how pivotal he is to the balance of the side, but if he's not fit then we have other options, and a number of guys putting in fantastic performances, especially our seamers.

"I couldn't be happier to have so many headaches and for us as a side to have strength in depth in a number of areas, so long may it continue. [People missing out] is part and parcel of professional sport - it's tough but it's good tough. If we want to be the No. 1 side in the world we are going to have to have a battery of fast bowlers who can come in and perform at any stage, especially if we are playing back-to-back games.

"It's very exciting to have Woody and Jofra with the ability to bowl over 90 miles an hour and fit that in with Stuart, Jimmy, Woakes and Curran who have a number of different skills. They complement each other."

England have lost the opening Test in their last five series of two or more matches - and eight in the last ten series - but Root hopes their series against West Indies will give them an advantage over Pakistan who have not played any competitive cricket since their series against Bangladesh in March, which was curtailed because of COVID-19. "We have a big focus on starting well this week," Root said. "We are all very aware that in previous series we have not got off to the best starts and we have been one-nil down, so the focus this time is trying to get a win early on and trying to drive the series from there.

"It is something we want to get right this week. It is disappointing and it always feels like hard work when you are behind in the series and we want to make sure we start well this time around. Fortunately we have three games under our belt coming into this. We played some really good cricket in the last two so guys are up to speed. We are familiar with the rhythm of Test cricket too so there is no excuse going into this week."

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