With Ben Stokes’ hopes of making the Ashes tour seemingly all but officially over following his arrest for his role in a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub last week, England’s selectors are said to have already been focusing their attention on finding a suitable replacement for the volatile all-rounder.
Released without charge pending further police enquiries, England’s vice-captain has been suspended by the ECB until further notice following the emergence of CCTV footage appearing to show him throwing 15 punches at two men, albeit at one seen holding a bottle.
And with the First Test in Brisbane less than two months away, Stokes’ likely exclusion has already led to fears of a whitewash Down Under.
Certainly, England’s search for a replacement once again highlights the dearth of proven talent selectors have to call upon at the top level, with Essex’s Tom Westley considered the strongest candidate to replace Stokes in a 16-man squad - according to the Daily Mail - despite averaging just 24 in his debut Test summer.
Following scores of 25 and 59 against South Africa at the Oval, Westley made just 57 runs in his five subsequent innings, leading legendary quick bowler Bob Willis to raise concerns during the second Test against the West Indies.
‘He seems to be a bit like Keaton Jennings in his brief outings this summer. He’s getting out the same way every time,’ he told Sky Sports.
“His bat goes down to mid-on rather than down the pitch and he’s missing straight balls. He’s now in the dock I’m afraid. You can forgive players for getting out but this is clearly a technical fault. I’m worried about him.”
And Shane Warne is another to raise doubts. After the third Lords Test, the Aussie added: "He’s got a scrambled brain, he cannot go to Australia with a scrambled brain, I think he will get worked out. He’s got too many issues that he needs to sort out."
But Westley has found an ally in former captain Nasser Hussain, who has encouraged the selectors to follow the lead of the Windies with Shai Hope and stick by out-of-form players.
"England may look at [Shai] Hope in particular and realise they must continue with their policy of giving batsmen a decent run,’ he wrote for the Daily Mail.
"West Indies stuck with their youngsters despite the flak they were getting and it produced one of the greatest wins in their history."
Westley is said to be battling it out with Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone for a Tour place. Livingstone has failed to impress in the T20 series against the Proteas but averaged 47 for his county.
Another option is to acknowledge Stokes’ all-round prowess with both bat and ball and therefore bring two new faces into the squad, which would throw Middlesex fast bowler Steven Finn into the mix.
The Middlesex fast bowler made his own claim for a call-up with eight wickets in an innings against Lancashire last week.