Australia pace spearhead Mitchell Starc is preparing a hostile Ashes reception for England – with or without Ben Stokes.
Starc, speaking on the same day it was announced his fellow seamer James Pattinson is the least likely of Australia’s four vaunted pace bowlers to be fit for the first Test in Brisbane next month, is equivocal about Stokes’ uncertain presence.
Stokes’ availability is shrouded in doubt after he was arrested last week on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm during late-night disorder outside a Bristol nightclub, then released without charge but still under investigation by Avon & Somerset Police.
The all-rounder and Test vice-captain was named in England’s Ashes squad two days later. But following the publication of a video on The Sun’s website allegedly showing footage of the incident in the early hours of last Monday, the England and Wales Cricket board suspended both him and one-day international opener Alex Hales from international selection until further notice, pending a Cricket Discipline Commission investigation.
No announcement is expected on the next stage of police inquiries until mid-October – less than two weeks before Stokes is due to fly to Australia with the rest of England’s squad. Whether he arrives on schedule or not, left-arm fast bowler Starc has spelled out his intention to make England’s tour as uncomfortable as possible in the middle.
Asked if England can challenge for the Ashes without Stokes, Starc said in quotes published on ESPNcricinfo: “I’m sure they can. He probably makes their team a bit more balanced, but he’s not the be-all and end-all of their team.
“I think everyone in world cricket knows how good Ben is … if he does come then we know how good a player he is and how he makes that team much more balanced. So if he’s not there it’s a big blow for them, good for us.”
Starc is out to ensure England have the same troubles with the current Australia attack as they did when Mitchell Johnson was the driving force in the tourists’ 5-0 whitewash defeat down under four years ago.
“We’ve got a really good attack there,” he said. “It’s not down to one person – everyone will like to bowl like Jono and terrorise the Poms like he did … but the great thing for us is we’ve got a young group that complement each other really nicely.”
Australia’s fast-bowling coach David Saker has reported a setback for Pattinson as he continues to suffer with back problems but adds Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are all on track for the Gabba.
Saker, standing in for Darren Lehmann as Australia coach on their limited-overs tour of India, gave an update on the team’s frontline seamers.
“Three of them we know are on track, but James Pattinson’s had a little bit of a setback,” said Saker, who was England’s fast-bowling coach on their last two Ashes tours. “We’re not sure how bad (Pattinson’s injury is) at the moment.”