Mark Butcher, speaking on the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast, said that he has “no idea” where Ben Stokes fits in England’s T20 World Cup XI.
Ben Stokes is not part of the squad currently touring Pakistan but is set to join up with the England team for their three warm-up matches in Australia ahead of the tournament which kicks off next month. England are one of the favourites for the World Cup in the T20 betting.
Harry Brook’s scintillating performances with the bat including an 81 not out off 35 in England’s massive score of 221-3 last Friday alongside good series for Alex Hales and Ben Duckett have given the management team a headache as to how they fit their star all-rounder into the side. With Liam Livingstone also set to return from injury for the tournament and captain Jos Buttler billed to play all three upcoming matches in Lahore, England’s riches in the T20 batting department leaves no obvious space for Stokes, who hasn’t played a T20I since March last year, to slot straight back into.
“I think Ben poses a problem that the captain and the coach and the management of that team could probably do without,” said Butcher. “You know, Harry Brook at the minute is playing on a different level and Hales has been brought in to do exactly what Alex Hales has been doing for the last three years which is to be an absolute menace to opposition bowlers at the top of the order. England’s other options there have been wiped out so Hales and Buttler at the top is pretty much nailed on as far as I can see.
“Then it’s the question of Liam Livingstone who is presumably fit and is going to be there on the team sheet. Moeen Ali will be there on the team sheet in some capacity. Although I suppose in Australia his option with the off-spin perhaps isn’t quite as potent as it might be in other places. So maybe there is the tipping point. Does Stokes’s role as an all-rounder trump Moeen Ali’s in Australia? Are those two kind of vying for a position as a floater between four and six or whatever because it’s almost impossible to see them being able to leave Harry Brook out, particularly when you think of the game time that guys are going to have leading into it now.”
“Malan is going to be in there at number three you would imagine, despite having a little bit of a quiet time in this series so far, so it doesn’t leave a lot of room for Ben. It’s interesting, very interesting.”
England have rotated their seamers so far against Pakistan on pitches which have proved difficult to limit scoring on. Mark Wood wowed on his return from injury with express pace reaching 97mph in the third game in Karachi. Chris Woakes remains an injury doubt as he recovers from knee surgery earlier this year and has yet to play in Pakistan, despite being named in England’s World Cup squad.
You would think that Jos Buttler would want to be playing pretty much his full strength team between now and that first (World Cup) game,” said Butcher. “But he might not get the chance to do that as yet because they are still nursing Mark Wood, Chris Woakes hasn’t bowled a ball in anger for ages and he was sort of just about off a full run in practice prior to the match on Sunday in Karachi. Chris Jordan’s not out here yet, he will be joining up in Australia. So there are so many moving parts for England at the moment that it’s starting to look a bit of a mess.
“They are still very capable of playing extraordinary cricket. Mark Wood the other night was thrilling, Harry Brook has been magnificent throughout but you’re also thinking to yourself there’s not been a cohesive performance yet. Of course, you don’t want to peak too early but it would be nice to be somewhere close or to have some sort of an idea that you are just about to be in peaking mode. At the moment England are just about at the point where they can think about perhaps putting what might be their best XI on the park but not quite get round to doing it.”
The fifth T20I will be played in Lahore on September 28. Here’s where you can follow the match live on TV and streaming platforms.