NOTTINGHAM, England: Joe Root called his friend Ben Stokes the heartbeat of the England team, without compare in world cricket even.
And yet England must replace that incomparable heartbeat somehow or the five-test series against India starting on Wednesday at Trent Bridge is going to feel like five heart attacks.
Stokes’ decision last week to miss the series while he handles mental health issues and a four-month-old broken finger that refuses to heal was a severe blow to England’s chances of paying back India for being thrashed 3-1 in March.
England’s batting and fielding struggled without Stokes in early June, when New Zealand inflicted on England a first home series defeat since 2014.
To cover for Stokes’ batting and bowling, the short-term fix would have been Chris Woakes, but a bruised heel has made him unavailable until the third test.
England answer to replacing its premier allrounder could be two in Sam Curran, one of the Indian Premier League contingent rested from the New Zealand series, and Ollie Robinson.
Robinson has completed a suspension he earned after his racist and sexist tweets from 2012-14 came to light on the first day of his test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s. This was just hours after the England team took a stand against racism and sexism, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the ban “over the top.
Robinson showed his potential amid the embarrassment by contributing seven wickets and 42 runs.
England is also believed to be keen to play left-arm spinner Jack Leach after paying for his absence against New Zealand when it went for an all-pace attack. If James Anderson and Stuart Broad aren’t rotated, Mark Wood could be the odd man out. Jofra Archer is back playing for his county but managing his right elbow after surgery.
Dan Lawrence is also expected to make way for wicketkeeper Jos Buttler in the middle order.
India’s main concern has been time and how to fill it. The squad has been in England for almost two months to the day to fulfil quarantine requirements before the world test championship final, which it lost to New Zealand in mid-June in Southampton.
One change to that side will be enforced after opener Shubman Gill returned home with shin splints. Mayank Agarwal looked set to replace him until Monday, when suspected concussion ruled him out of the first test.
Agarwal took a blow to his helmet in the nets from a Mohammed Siraj bouncer.
Backup opener Prithvi Shaw and middle order bat Suryakumar Yadav were called up from the limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka but were still in isolation and not available.
Rohit Sharma’s fellow opener could prove to be Lokesh Rahul, who has opened in 33 of his 36 tests but was apparently being considered by India in the middle order. In a three-day warmup match he scored 101 from No. 5.
Rahul may yet appear in the middle order if vice captain Ajinkya Rahane doesnt recover from a swollen left hamstring.
Whoever starts on Wednesday, they chase a first test series victory in England since 2007.
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