England sweating over Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler’s fitness
England assistant coach Graham Thorpe admits he does not know whether Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow or Jos Buttler will be fit for England’s Ashes finale in Hobart.
All three sustained painful injuries during a taxing fourth Test in Sydney, with Stokes awaiting scan results on a side problem while Buttler (left index finger) and (Bairstow (right thumb) both fear that X-rays will confirm fractures.
The trio will all be needed to dig deep and help their team scrap for a draw on day five, with England facing the prospect of 98 overs at the crease when they resume on 30 without loss and 358 adrift.
But for one, two or all three of them, whatever effort they give could be their last contribution of the campaign.
Sam Billings has already been added to the squad as wicketkeeping cover for Buttler and Bairstow, with Saturday’s emergency stand-in Ollie Pope and Dan Lawrence also waiting in the wings.
Assistant coach Thorpe, who is leading the squad while Chris Silverwood completes his Covid-19 isolation, said: “We’ve obviously got some blows. It’s possible (they will miss the final Test) but we will be assessing all of that at the end of the game.
“Obviously, Sam has been called into the group and that’s obviously a good indicator of some of the concerns we have with the injuries.
“But I am sure the lads will take whatever they need to take to get themselves in a position where they are capable of performing on the final day. They will all bat and they will all do their very best, I know that.
“At the end of the game we have to assess who is potentially going to be available. With Stokes, his injury is not a great one being an all rounder.”
England hope Silverwood will be back in time to help put the jigsaw together in Tasmania, with much depending on whether or not Stokes pulls up fit enough to play as a specialist batter.
In the meantime, Pope did his prospects of a recall no harm by willingly taking the chance to step up from the sidelines and take on the gloves.
It is a role he has performed only half-a-dozen times in first-class cricket and once before in Tests, but he came out in credit after taking four catches.
Two were regulation, but a couple of sharp grabs standing up to Jack Leach could give him a much-needed boost of confidence should he find himself restored to the middle order next time out.
He could even be considered as a short-term fix as keeper next week, though Billings is a likelier deputy having made an 11-hour road trip to join the squad from the Gold Coast.
“I thought Ollie did fantastically well, it’s a bit like a goalkeeper… if you don’t really notice them that means that they’ve done very well,” said Thorpe.
“It took me a while to realise it was him back out there. That gives us gives us options.”
Australia are likely to have selection headaches of an altogether happier kind after Usman Khawaja scored twin centuries – 137 and 101 not out – on his first appearance in two-and-a-half years.
He was only supposed to be a one-game replacement for Travis Head after the latter caught Covid-19 in Melbourne, but it would be a remarkable move to ease back out of the XI after such a dominant display.
The man himself is fully prepared to stand down, though.
“At the moment I’m quite resigned to the fact that I’ll probably miss out,” he said.
“That’s just from talking to (head selector) George Bailey about continuity. That’s important, I’m not totally against that process.
“I felt like throughout my career, a lot of changes were made and I was on the wrong side of them so I’m the first to say that I think there needs to be structure and stability.
“I actually like the processes that the selectors have been taking throughout the series so at the moment I’m not really expecting to play the next match.”