Ben Stokes asked for “eight quick bowlers to choose from” for the Ashes but with Jofra Archer’s latest setback and less than six weeks until the first ball is bowled, England could be left short of options.
Archer has suffered from chronic elbow injury problems since he was first forced out of a Test match in January 2020 down in South Africa and, despite five operations to try and solve the situation, he has not fully recovered.
The fast bowler was ruled out of the rest of the Indian Premier League season on Wednesday, after his attempts to “push through the discomfort while playing, hoping it will settle, has proved challenging”, the England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement.
Archer starred for England with the ball during his Test debut in 2019, including a memorable spell against Steve Smith at Lord’s which caused the great Australian to be ruled out with concussion.
With Archer not having played Test cricket since February 2021, it seems increasingly unlikely the Barbados-born quick will be fit enough to play, despite his white-ball appearances for England in Bangladesh in March.
England and Stokes’ plans were dealt a further blow when another quick, Olly Stone, hobbled off the field with a hamstring issue during Nottinghamshire’s County Championship match against Lancashire at the weekend.
Stone has had a number of injuries during his 10-year professional career, including four stress fractures and a broken finger, and will undergo a scan later in the week to determine the severity of his latest setback.
There are some sources of encouragement however with Ollie Robinson, who overshadowed Smith’s debut for Sussex with a stunning bowling display, taking 14 wickets for 117 against Worcestershire.
The seamer, who was dropped for fitness concerns as recently as last year, is likely to play a key role in the summer having turned over a new leaf during the winter tours of Pakistan and New Zealand.
However, with Jamie Overton previously admitting a return in time for the Ashes from a back stress fracture is “unlikely”, and Saqib Mahmood having only just returned to full fitness, the extent of England’s injury problems has been laid bare.
That is without examining the captain and talisman of England’s recent success, who played just two of Chennai Super Kings’ opening six matches of the IPL due to a toe issue.
Even that announcement was a relief, as Stokes’ left knee has been a continuous problem, and he had to have an injection before heading out to the IPL.
Stokes bowled just nine overs during the two Tests in New Zealand in February and he may not be able to play a significant role with the ball, in part due to the nature of the series, with the five Tests taking place across just six weeks.
England are likely to continue to be reliant on stalwarts James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but aged 40 and 36 respectively (Broad will turn 37 on June 24), it is a high workload to put on two bowlers, as experienced and talented as they are.
While Anderson and Broad are expected to be supported by Robinson, Mark Wood has also had a history of injuries and could be rested for some of the matches due to the hectic nature of the schedule.
It is unlikely England will have eight fit quick bowlers of the calibre desired by Stokes but they will have to find a way to make do in order to recapture the famous urn.