London, June 1 (IANS) Former captain Michael Atherton said it would be a big blow for England if skipper Ben Stokes' knee problem limits his ability to bowl during the upcoming Ashes, saying the allrounder's role he fulfils in the side is absolutely critical.
Stokes suffered a flare-up of a left knee injury during the drawn Test series in New Zealand in February. Since then, he has only bowled just one over in one of his two matches for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), in IPL 2023, where his appearances were limited due to various niggles.
Ahead of the one-off Test against Ireland at 'ord's, Stokes had said the left knee was in a much better position than it was in New Zealand and has given himself the best opportunity to play a role with the ball in Eng'and's home summer.
"Stokes' knee is a concern because of the balance of the side. He has asked for good, true pitches against Australia but if England only have four bowlers that puts a lot of work on those bowlers, one or two of whom (in James Anderson and Stuart Broad) are cracking on in years."
"Stokes' ability to fully fulfil that all-rounder function is absolutely critical. I wouldn't expect him to bowl too much in this Ireland game but hopefully, his knee will be okay come the Ashes."
"It would be a big blow if it wasn't. A Test match day of 90 overs for just four bowlers can be a hard ask, particularly against Australia's Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, who can bat long," Atherton was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
In the Test against Ireland at Lord's which happens before the five-match Ashes series begins at Edgbaston on June 16, uncapped pacer Josh Tongue will be making his Test debut. Tongue, 25, has impressed for several seasons in domestic competitions for Worcestershire and was part of the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year.
His remarkable Test debut will come after almost retiring from the game due to a nagging nerve issue in his right shoulder, which needed two operations and Botox injections to solve in a 15-month layoff period.
"I think England see a high ceiling. He is a strong lad, quite lively, and hits the pitch hard. That is the type of bowler they are looking for. There are five Ashes Tests in about seven weeks so England might need the strength in depth that they have talked about."
"What they wouldn't want would be to get to a critical Ashes Test and then thrust someone like Tongue in for a debut. I think that's why they have given him a go here. It's a great opportunity for him and a good story," added Atherton.
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