Injuries to James Anderson and Chris Woakes have put England in a delicate situation for their Test series against South Africa in the winter – and potentially beyond.
Anderson has been the Three Lions’ world-class operator and leader of the attack for the last decade but injuries have begun to take their toll on the seamer.
His latest setback – a groin injury – has ruled him out of the first Test of the series, leaving England without their all-time leading wicket-taker against a quality batting line-up.
Woakes has come to the fore over the last year but has joined Anderson on the sidelines after suffering a side strain in the Three Lions’ ICC Champions Trophy opener against Bangladesh.
England will be hopeful of having both men back for the bulk of the series against the Proteas but their issues, especially Anderson’s, will give cause for concern ahead of the Ashes later in the year.
New captain Joe Root will be determined to begin his reign with a victory over South Africa and a defence of the urn against Australia when his side travel Down Under.
However, without two of their top two pace bowlers, that could be put in jeopardy, with England currently backed in the latest cricket betting odds at 13/5 to defeat the Baggy Greens.
The loss of the duo for certainly the first Test of the series against the Proteas presents an opening for others to stake a claim for a place in the line-up or at least the squad for the trip to defend the urn.
Stuart Broad is guaranteed his place in the side, while Mark Wood will look to make his first appearance since 2015 following a successful return from injury in the ODIs.
With Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali playing as all-rounders – it leaves one space for another seam bowler or two pending on the line of attack, due to the option of pushing Ali up the order.
Steven Finn has struggled with consistency over the last couple of years, although he was the last option used in English conditions when the Three Lions were without their front line attack.
At the peak of his power, he has the threat to take wickets with regularity, with 125 Test strikes to his name in his 36 matches. His experience could see the selectors put faith in him one last time, but he will have to perform with talent emerging from the Lions.
Jake Ball has failed to fire in his three matches to date, although he has shown some promise on the ODIs – albeit over some expensive periods.
He and Finn are similar bowlers that operate using their height and seam movement to create difficulties for opposing batsmen. Should England consider either man, it’s likely to be one or the other due to their likeness.
Toby Roland-Jones was called into the squad last summer against Pakistan, but did not manage to force his way into the side. He did make his ODI debut against South Africa, showing that he is in the minds of the selectors.
The 29-year-old does not have age on his side, although he does boast an impressive average of 25.29 in first-class cricket. He would represent a safe pair of hands before Anderson and Woakes are returned to fitness.
Given that Anderson will be 35 this summer, looking at his replacement for the long term would behove the Three Lions. Tom Curran impressed during the Lions tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year and has bowled well for Surrey on the county circuit. At the age of 22, England could blood him under Root’s leadership to offer a look into the future – for the winter and beyond.