England pace aces create 'headache' for Root ahead of Pakistan Tests
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England have the luxury of six specialist pacemen in their 14-man squad for this week's first Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford -- a welcome "headache" for captain Joe Root.
The skipper can call on veteran new-ball partners James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the express pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood and the impressive Sam Curran and Chris Woakes. The hosts rotated their quicks during last month's 2-1 series win over the West Indies which, together with the upcoming campaign against Pakistan, forms a programme of six Tests in seven weeks.
That is a particularly tough schedule for fast bowlers in a season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. England's management has argued no paceman can play all six Tests, with the restrictions imposed by maintaining a bio-secure "bubble" requiring several options to be immediately at hand.
But it is an issue they will need to handle with care given they have now lost the opener in eight of their past 10 multi-match Test series, which for all their resilience could prove costly if it happens against Pakistan.
Broad revealed on Sunday he felt "so low" after being omitted from the West Indies opener that he considered retiring. The recalled Broad responded with 16 wickets at a miserly average of under 11 in the next two matches as he joined long-standing England new-ball colleague Anderson as one of a select group of seven bowlers to have taken 500 Test wickets.
At 34, and bowling a generally fuller length which makes his ability to move the ball late off the seam an even more challenging proposition, Broad is in arguably the best form of his career. Anderson, four years older and a swing bowler who thrives in home conditions, is closing in on 600 Test wickets, with England's all-time leading bowler clearly not done yet.
World Cup winners Archer and Wood provide England with the option of genuine 90-miles-per-hour-plus pace, with speed through the air an asset even when pitch and overhead conditions favour the batsmen.
Then there is Curran, whose left-arm angle adds variety to an otherwise all right-arm attack. The Surrey bowler has won every Test he has played in at home. Woakes, who took 5-50 in the West Indies decider, has a better home average than either Broad or Anderson, with his 81 Test wickets in England coming at just 22 apiece. Woakes is now more inclined to deploy a sharp bouncer, which makes it harder for batsmen to routinely push forward in the hope of blunting his movement.
That still leaves the pace bowling of star all-rounder Ben Stokes who, as he showed before guiding England to an astounding one-wicket win with a brilliant century during last year's Headingley Test against Australia, can also drag his side back into matches by sheer force of personality with the ball.
But the West Indies finale may serve as a model for England. Stokes was unfit to bowl, although he featured as a batsman, and that meant England deployed Anderson, Broad, Archer and Woakes in an attack featuring spinner Dom Bess after omitting batsman Zak Crawley.
England could now drop Bess or still play four specialist quicks even if Stokes is fit to bowl for the first Test, which starts at Old Trafford on Wednesday. There were times when Archer, who clearly thrives on responsibility, was relegated to the role of first and second change during the West Indies finale and appeared to bowl accordingly.
Archer was making his return after missing the second Test due to a breach of coronavirus protocols. It may be, however, that even Anderson and Broad will have to accept they cannot always be the "main men" from now on.
England often appear so obsessed with the Ashes that the opponent in front of them becomes relegated to a warm-up act for their next confrontation with Australia. But this season's compressed schedule may have inadvertently given England a template for how to regain the urn Down Under in 2021/22. "With the talent that's waiting in the wings it's an exciting place to be and long may those headaches continue," said Root.