PAUL NEWMAN: Ahmed, Dawson or Jacks could replace injured Jack Leach

PAUL NEWMAN: England in a spin! Rehan Ahmed, Liam Dawson and Will Jacks are in the frame to replace unlucky Jack Leach, after the spinner was ruled out of the Ashes with a back stress fracture

  • Jack Leach has been ruled out of this summer’s Ashes Tests with England 
  • Rehan Ahmed, Will Jacks and Liam Dawson are possible replacements for him
  • Moeen Ali has rejected England before, while Liam Livingstone is an outsider

There will be no Headingley heroics, with bat or ball, for Jack Leach in this Ashes. Only the desperate disappointment of being ruled out of the whole series on Sunday when knowing he had the total confidence of Ben Stokes to play a full part against Australia.

Just as all attention was on the state of Ben Stokes knee and whether it was a genuine worry for the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston in just 11 days time came news on Sunday that Leach had suffered a stress fracture of the back and was out for the whole Test summer.

It is a crushing blow for the spinner and an England captain in Stokes who has done so much to make the ever-present Leach an important part of the Bazball revolution and had again thrown him the ball early on day one of what became the thrashing of Ireland.

Leach, 31, seemingly developed lower back problems while he was being hit for 56 in an eight-over spell after lunch at Lord’s on Saturday and a scan in London on Sunday revealed a stress fracture that will keep him out of five Ashes Tests in six and a half weeks.

England will name a replacement in their 16-man squad for the first two Ashes Tests this week and it will be between Rehan Ahmed and Will Jacks, both of whom excelled on debut as spin-bowling all-rounders in the winter victory over Pakistan, or perhaps the left-field choice of Hampshire’s under-rated slow left-armer Liam Dawson.

Jack Leach will miss this summer’s Ashes Tests with England with a stress fracture in his back

Rehan Ahmed and Will Jacks are the leading options to replace Leach for the Ashes series

Hampshire’s under-rated slow left-armer Liam Dawson could be another left-field option

The best short-term option would be the experience of Moeen Ali, but he rejected the approaches of England coach Brendon McCullum to feature in that 3-0 victory in Pakistan and, just back from the IPL, is unlikely to feature in England’s thoughts now.

Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone, whose Test debut was cut short by injury in Pakistan, is another totally modern exciting option, being an explosive batsman and a bowler of both off and leg-spin. But he is felt to be the outsider at this stage.

For now, as disappointing as this news is for one of the most popular members of England’s squad, the absence of Leach might even solve a problem for England because fears are growing that captain Ben Stokes left knee will stop him bowling in the Ashes.

That means England could now leave out their specialist spinner for the first Test a week on Friday on the Edgbaston ground which does not really suit slow bowling and pick four seamers to cover for the likely absence of a fifth bowler in Stokes.

Joe Root, a more than decent off-spinner, could then carry the slow bowling load for England against an Australia side likely to contain four left-handers in their top seven, largely negating any advantage slow left-armer Leach would have had.

So England could field both Stuart Broad, exceptional in taking another five-wicket first innings haul in the 10-wicket victory over Ireland, and the extreme pace of Mark Wood to join the certain selections, as long as they are fit, of Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson.

But England will need a specialist spinner at some point in the Ashes and opportunity could knock for 18-year-old leg-spinning all-rounder Ahmed, who burst onto the scene with a five-wicket haul in the final Test against Pakistan in Karachi last winter.

Or Jacks, 24, the exciting Surrey talent who took six wickets in an innings in the first Test in Rawalpindi with what had been considered occasional off-breaks but is best known for being an attacking middle-order batsman.

The absence of Leach, who made the famous one not out in the Ashes in 2019, is another blow

Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are other injury absences for the England Test team this summer

Whatever happens the absence of Leach, who made the most famous one not out in Ashes history when partnering Stokes to an extraordinary victory over Australia at Leeds in 2019, is another blow for England.

They have already seen Jofra Archer ruled out for the summer and Olly Stone certain to miss at least the first three Tests with a hamstring problem. Then there have been minor issues with Anderson and Robinson England insist will not stop them playing at Edgbaston.

The latest worry is the ongoing knee concerns of Stokes, who visibly winced with pain and then hobbled afterwards when he took the routine catch of Curtis Campher at short fine-leg during Ireland’s resistance at Lord’s before they caved in to inevitable defeat.

The state of Stokes left knee is set to dominate England’s thinking as they depart en masse to play golf at some of the best courses in Scotland this week as part of their deliberately relaxed build-up to an Ashes series that begins in just 11 days time.

The England captain was adamant after Ireland extended their one-off Test at Lord’s into the last session of the third day that he is on course to bowl at Edgbaston and spent 20 minutes before play on Saturday trying to prove it.

The state of Ben Stokes’ knee going into the Ashes is going to dominate England’s thinking

Josh Tongue took five wickets against Ireland and was named in England’s 16-man Ashes team

But can the enormity of the Ashes occasion, Stokes super-human qualities and pure adrenalin be enough to enable him to fulfil the fourth seamer’s role that remains crucial to the balance of the England side and all their pre-series confidence?

At least England have found another genuine alternative to Wood as a point of difference in Josh Tongue who took five wickets on his first appearance at Lord’s in the Ireland second innings and was named in England’s 16-man squad for the first two Ashes Tests. His emergence proved another inspired selection ahead of Chris Woakes here by an England side who have got just about everything right over the last year.

Now they have another problem to solve in the absence of Leach but it is one that just might work to their advantage, with Anderson, Robinson, Wood and Broad lining up against Australia in the first Test and then England seeing how they are fixed after that.

But for Leach it is a cruel blow and he will just have to concentrate now on regaining full fitness in time for England’s next Test assignment after the Ashes, which will not come until January’s five-Test trip to India. He really will be needed then.

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