England duo Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow will be given as much time as they need to prove their fitness ahead of the fifth and final Ashes Test in Hobart. England’s players enjoyed a few days off after producing a brave escape in Sydney to avoid going 4-0 down in the series and scuppered Australia’s whitewash plans in the process.
Stokes and Bairstow were the key duo that kept England afloat in Sydney. Stokes suffered a “low grade tear” in his side while bowling in Australia’s first innings but bravely batted through pain to make two vital half-centuries in the match. Stokes wrote in his Mirror column that he would need to work out if he can play as a batter only in Hobart as he will be unable to bowl. Bairstow suffered a serious blow to the thumb from Pat Cummins during his century in Sydney but also fought through pain to make a vital 41 in the second innings after being unable to field. England captain Joe Root said both men will be assessed at training over the next two days.
“We’ve got to just see where they’re at, see what their bodies can handle and then assess from there,” Root said in Hobart on Wednesday. “I think they need to make sure they feel like they’re physically in a place where they can get through five days of hard cricket, whatever Australia throw at them, and they’re in a position where they can go out and play and firstly, get through the game, but also, most importantly put in a performance as they managed to last week as well. It’s alright being fit to play but you’ve got to be fit to perform and I think that’s what we’ve got to work out,” he added.
England are already going to have one forced change after Jos Buttler flew home with a broken thumb. Sam Billings has joined the squad and immediately began working with England’s keeping coach James Foster at training Wednesday. England could well make another change at the top of the order with Haseeb Hameed having scored just 80 runs in eight innings, with Rory Burns setting himself to return. If neither Stokes nor Bairstow come up it will present opportunities for the likes of Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes or Dan Lawrence to return to the side. Pope and Woakes have not played since Adelaide while Lawrence has not played at all in the series and has had no cricket whatsoever in Australia. But Root said his fringe players would simply have to prepare as best they could give the circumstances.
“All you can do when you’re on the fringes, is work as hard as you can, and make sure you feel as ready as you can,” he said. “One thing about this tour and all tours really in these bubble environments, this Covid-19 world that we are currently living in, is there’s not always opportunities to go out and play and to have game time. But as players, you’ve just got to manage that as best as you can. You’ve got to feel like you’re readying yourself, you’re putting yourself in those situations in practice as best as possible. So when you do get out there, you know, you’re as mentally ready as you possibly can be,” he further added.