England must get by without Ben Stokes for the pivotal Edgbaston Test – and may face a make-or-break decision next week on the key all-rounder’s fitness for the remainder of the summer.
It came as no surprise when the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed Stokes’s absence with a torn calf from a 13-man squad to face Pakistan in Birmingham.
Before a ball is bowled there, though, his injury will be reassessed, with uncertainty surrounding not just his readiness for the fourth and final Test at The Oval, but possibly the limited-overs programme to follow.
Stokes limped out of England’s attack as they closed on their series-levelling victory over Pakistan at Old Trafford.
After MRI scans on his injury, the ECB specified its nature but no further prognosis as they announced their squad without him.
It contains, as expected, specialist seamers Steven Finn and Jake Ball to vie for Stokes’s place, with Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid as a second spin option once more, along with the remainder of the winning team in Manchester.
Stokes has had an injury-ravaged summer, in which he has yet to complete a Test match or play in any limited-overs fixture for his country.
He had to have surgery on his left knee after injuring himself during the first Test against Sri Lanka in May. He missed two subsequent matches and the four one-day internationals and a Twenty20 that followed, before returning at Old Trafford.
England have opted against a like-for-like all-rounder replacement, with the four-match series level at 1-1.
Instead, either Finn or Ball appears set to complete a four-man seam attack. Alternatively, Yorkshire leg-spinner Rashid may yet be granted his maiden Test on home soil – having played only in the United Arab Emirates, against Pakistan last winter.
James Anderson, who like Stokes returned from injury last week, showed no ill-effects as he recorded match figures of 4-68 in 29 overs on his home ground.
England’s all-time leading wicket-taker is safely back in harness as Alastair Cook’s hosts seek to consolidate their fightback from defeat in the series opener at Lord’s.
James Vince, who has yet to make a half-century in seven attempts in his maiden summer, has been given another chance.
England squad: A N Cook (capt), A D Hales, J E Root, J M Vince, G S Ballance, J M Bairstow (wkt), M M Ali, C R Woakes, S C J Broad, S T Finn, J M Anderson, A U Rashid, J T Ball.