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England's Ashes options: Injuries could bite hard for hosts

England have been red-hot in Test cricket recently, but a number of fitness issues among their squad for the upcoming Ashes clashes could hand a major boost to Australia.

England have a one-off Test against Ireland to navigate before the main event of the summer, while the Baggy Greens have the small matter of the World Test Championship final with India to focus on first.

And Australia should be in confident mood, with Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Marcus Harris all amongst the runs in county cricket, while Michael Neser is pushing his cause by starring for Glamorgan.

WhatEngland v Australia, 2023 Ashes series
WhereEdgbaston, Lord's, Headingley, Old Trafford, The Oval
WhenFriday 16th June - Monday 31st July 2023
How to watchChannel 9
Odds (outright)England 2.20, Draw 6.50, Australia 2.20

Some batters short of runs

While Australia have clearly put the IPL on the back-burner with such a huge Test programme ahead of them, several England stars opted to head to India and things have not quite worked out as they would have liked.

Former Test skipper Joe Root has played just three times for Rajasthan Royals and has only batted once, making 10 against Royal Challengers Bangalore just over a week ago.

His Yorkshire colleague Harry Brook made a superlative century for Sunrisers Hyderabad against Kolkata Knight Riders, but his other ten innings have yielded a mere 90 runs combined.

Both would probably have been better served staying at home and joining the fit-again Jonny Bairstow in turning out for Yorkshire.

The Test against Ireland will offer them a last chance to show the form they have demonstrated so ably in red-ball cricket in the past.

Back at home, opener Zak Crawley remains something of an enigma and is averaging just over 36 so far for Kent this summer, not figures that will discourage the Aussie seamers from attacking his vulnerable off-stump defence when the Ashes start.

Crawley’s partner at the top of the order, Ben Duckett, has looked in slightly better order for Nottinghamshire, while new vice-captain Ollie Pope has shone for Surrey and has 379 County Championship runs at 54.14 to his name so far this summer.

Stokes dilemma could prove crucial

All-rounder Ben Stokes has risen to the occasion since being named as the Test captain of England, forming a formidable partnership with head coach Brendon McCullum.

Their all-out attacking approach has delivered ten wins from their last 12 matches, but fitness issues for Stokes could see him forced to play as a batter only, at least at the beginning of the Ashes series.

Stokes needed an injection to calm a long-standing knee injury to allow him to head to the IPL to play for Chennai Super Kings, but he has since suffered further problems with a foot issue and his chances of bowling again soon look slim.

That could unbalance England and force them to field an extra bowler, with the selection of Bairstow to keep wicket in preference to Ben Foakes a major signal that this might well be the case.

The Stokes issue has had an effect on the market for the opening Test of five, with England 2.25 to triumph at Edgbaston, while an Australia victory is priced at 2.25.

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Archer absence aids Australia

England had hoped to get paceman Jofra Archer fit and ready to go for the Ashes, instead he will miss the whole of the summer after suffering renewed problems with a stress fracture in his right elbow.

Archer took 22 wickets in the 2019 Ashes series in England, so has previous against the Baggy Greens batters, but with him having not played Test cricket at all since February 2021, the Three Lions have shown that they can cope without the Sussex ace.

The hosts are also sweating on an ankle scan for Ollie Robinson after he pulled up while playing for Sussex against Glamorgan, having previously excelled in taking 14 wickets in the draw with Worcestershire.

The possible absence of Robinson would be a huge blow given that veteran James Anderson is already recovering from what has been described as a "mild groin strain".

Anderson missed the rest of the series back in 2019 after sustaining a calf problem in the opening session of the first Test and he has already been ruled out of the Ireland Test.

Should the worst happen for England and they go into the first Test at Edgbaston shorn of both Anderson and Robinson, their seam options are currently Stuart Broad, Matthew Potts, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes.

Broad obviously has plenty of previous against the Aussies, but the tourists would surely be boosted by knowing that England are not at full-strength and are relying on the relatively untried Potts and Wood, who is another fast bowler constantly plagued by injury.

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