England’s Ben Stokes expects short-pitched bowling to sway third Ashes Test at Headingley

England’s Ben Stokes says the third Ashes Test will be won by whichever side has the mettle and technique to withstand a bouncer barrage at Headingley.

All-rounder Stokes was named man-of-the-match in the drawn second Test at Lord’s after following up a ferocious Jofra Archer spell, in which the paceman left Steve Smith with concussion, by striking an unbeaten 115 that left the tourists 267 to win.

Australia closed on 154-6 in reply to retain their 1-0 lead in the five-match series and move to within one win of retaining the urn.

Smith’s concussion replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, was struck on the helmet by Archer at Lord’s and again in the nets by Mitchell Marsh on Tuesday – the same day that England’s Jason Roy was hit on the head in training – putting short-pitched bowling at the forefront of the agenda.

Asked by Sky Sports Cricket‘s Ian Ward if he is expecting ‘a bouncer war’ at Headingley in the coming days, Stokes replied: “I think it has come into the game a lot more as a tactic for making batsmen feel uncomfortable and using it as a wicket-taking delivery as well.

“Whoever played the short ball better last week got through that tricky period better than the other team and if the same thing happens again this week, it’s whoever can play the short ball better will come out on top, I guess.”

Smith is out of the third Test due to delayed onset concussion but was in good spirits as he walked around the Headingley outfield with the Australia doctor during training on Wednesday.

Labuschagne looks certain to fill in again after striking 59 off 100 balls and Stokes says that England can’t afford to take either him or the tourists lightly despite Smith’s absence.

“It’s a massive loss for Australia but we can’t go into this game thinking we’ve won it because Steve Smith isn’t playing,” he said. “It gives someone else an opportunity to come in and do well.

“We’ve seen Labuschagne come in and play really well so we know that it’s not going to be easy even without Steve Smith available; if anything we’ve got to push harder and make the person who comes in to replace him not feel comfortable at the crease whatsoever.

“I think Smith will be back for the next Test so we can’t make life easy for whoever comes in.”

Archer will once again spearhead England’s attack in partnership with Stuart Broad, with the selectors left to choose between Chris Woakes and Sam Curran as the third seamer.

The 24-year-old caught the eye with hostile fast bowling that consistently topped the 90mph mark, sending down one ball that clocked 96.1mph, and Stokes said it was incredible to watch.

“There was a moment where I stepped back from being involved in the game – I was stood at leg-slip for most of it – and it was just a fascinating and an amazing thing to be a part of,” he said.

“Watching a guy in his first Test match run in and bowl like he did to one of the greatest ever Test batsmen and make him look very uncomfortable, when most people have struggled to find a way to contain Steve Smith.

“Watching two seriously talented players go at it toe-to-toe for quite a long period of time was amazing to watch as a player in the game; I can only imagine what it was like being a spectator watching that.

“We’ve seen some quick spells in international cricket but I think the fact that that was his fourth or fifth spell – a full nine-over spell of 90mph-plus; it just shows where he is at as a player.”

Stokes’ seventh Test century came after he was promoted from six to five in the batting order and was timely too as England fought hard to build a second-innings lead, enabling the home side to press for a win on the final day.

Although Australia stood firm to gain a draw, vice-captain Stokes said he was proud of the way in which he constructed the innings.

“I was quite proud of how I read the situation – in terms of understanding where we were at in the innings, especially going into the last day.

“I made sure that I got the team into a position where we could then launch and slog just to make sure that we didn’t give Australia an opportunity to win the game.

“Two or three years ago I might have thought I’d done the job earlier than what I’d thought but I was just making sure that however it looked or felt that I wasn’t going to be giving my wicket away easily.”

Stokes revealed that England’s batting line-up is likely to remain fluid, with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow happy to rotate positions in the middle-order.

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“We’re very open to being versatile in terms of where we come into bat,” he said. “I think a lot will be dictated by the overs that I bowl and, with Jonny keeping, the amount of overs that we’re in the field and the situation of each game.

“We all know that we’re capable of batting at that number five position. I’m not too fussed [where I bat]. The reason I did slide back to six was that after the winter we had in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, where I was bowling lots of overs in the heat, was that I said to Joe [Root] that ‘I’m finding it quite hard if we’re bowling, I’m finding it quite hard to switch onto batting’.”

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