NASSER HUSSAIN: Ben Stokes’ knee injury is a HUGE concern for England – he will need to be nursed throughout the Ashes if the under-cooked tourists have any chance of a series win
Ben Stokes suffering a knee injury is a massive concern for England, not only in what remains of this first Test but throughout a series when games will come thick and fast.
His return for this Ashes enables England to have five bowlers but when he is at less than full capacity and Jack Leach is going round the park, as we saw on the second day at the Gabba, the other three are under pressure and really do have to step up.
I said before this Test Stokes had to play and we would have to accept it if he picked up an injury because of his complete lack of cricket since July. But if that has happened now and he will need to be nursed throughout the series it is a huge blow.
England are sweating on Ben Stokes’ fitness with the all-rounder struggling with his left knee
Stokes’ ability with the ball allows England to line-up with five bowlers but that could change
This whole business with Stokes and no-balls was odd. If the technology was not working and the TV umpire was unable to call them other than when a wicket fell, why weren’t the on-field officials calling them? They didn’t seem to have been told to.
If the bowler doesn’t know he is over-stepping then it will eventually prove costly, as we saw when Stokes bowled David Warner with a beauty only for it to then become clear he had been bowling no balls throughout his first over. As he continued to do, too.
Using technology to tell the umpires when a bowler has over-stepped has been a good addition to Test cricket. And it doesn’t take much, does it? All the TV official has to do really is take a quick look at a replay from side on and then tell his colleague to call it.
So for the umpires not to have been able to call a reported 14 Stokes no balls between them, on or off the field, or seemingly have a word in his ear was disappointing.
Stokes thought he had taken the wicket of David Warner after bowling him off his fourth ball
But he had overstepped, meaning Warner was called back, in one of his 14 no-ball deliveries
What this second day showed was how under-cooked England are and I don’t know what more they could have done about that before this series. They had a long summer, then some of them competed in the Twenty20 World Cup, then they had to quarantine in Queensland and then the weather ruined what little match preparation they had planned.
England had so little cricket ahead of the first Test they took to walking around Brisbane to get miles in their legs and it was little surprise they looked lacking in match fitness on the second day.
Compare that to 2010-11 when Andrew Strauss’ side played warm-up games for fun and took them very seriously before going on to win the Ashes. What is happening in Brisbane is a reflection of where touring is at with Covid and the weather in Queensland has compounded that.
Having said that England were excellent for the bulk of the first two sessions and Ollie Robinson in particular has been brilliant ever since he came into the side. He has been such a find and it really was hard work for Australia’s top three before lunch.
England seamer Ollie Robinson has been brilliant ever since he came into starting line-up
If you were hyper-critical you could say Chris Woakes should have bowled a little bit fuller and that’s where he has struggled away from home. His natural length was just a little bit short for the Gabba and other Australian grounds and when he does go a bit fuller away from home he can be a bit floaty and can be driven.
Certainly the Gabba pitch did not flatten out on day two and there was still quite a bit in it for the bowlers. The odd delivery seemed to be bursting through the top at times and it was a little uneven, unusually for Brisbane.
Marnus Labuschagne gave a masterclass in how to leave the new ball in Australia, just soaking it up, giving the first session to the bowlers and not worrying about the run-rate. He knew he would be able to cash in when Leach came on and the seamers tired.
His performance was something Dawid Malan could learn from. Labuschagne was leaving balls that were full of length knowing they would bounce over the stumps. Contrast that with Malan on day one when he played at a ball above waist high and nicked it.
Marnus Labuschagne gave a masterclass in how to leave the new ball in Australia on Thursday
Australia were never going to let Leach settle, especially Warner with the ball spinning in to him. They knew they could take as many runs off him before lunch as they could in 15 overs from the seamers after the break. It was very smart cricket.
Mark Wood was really good round the wicket to Warner in particular. Warner has that trigger where his back foot goes slightly towards the leg-side and, as Stuart Broad has exploited over the years, that can leave Warner exposed outside off-stump. He starts playing at balls he doesn’t have to and England could have gone round more often to him.
It was no co-incidence the Australian batters who coped best with conditions in Travis Head and Labuschagne have been playing Sheffield Shield cricket. Labuschagne let the bowlers come to him in that way of his while Head counter-attacked. Together they have put Australia in a formidable position.