The shock news that Jack Leach has been ruled out of the Ashes is a significant blow to England's preparations, depriving them of a spinner who has flourished under Ben Stokes' leadership, and who has bought into the so-called "Bazball" ethos with his willingness to bowl to attacking fields, and accept the risk of some hard-hitting treatment in return for the rewards of key wickets.
Who then can replace him? ESPNcricinfo runs the rule over the possible contenders, fanciful and otherwise.
(and an all-seam attack)
It's probably the obvious option given how short-notice this injury is, plus the clear concerns over Stokes' knee, which had already left Leach's role looking vulnerable within a four-man attack. Root's attacking offies, habitually delivered from round the wicket with a flat trajectory and an emphasis on overspin, have already claimed 54 wickets in the course of his career, and he's deeply familiar with England's bowling plans, having turned his arm over in all but two of England's 13 Tests since Stokes became captain. His presence would allow England to recall each of James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood without a complete clear-out of the seam attack that did the needful at Lord's.
England surely wouldn't be that crazy, would they? Hold my Bazbeer! Rehan doesn't turn 19 until August, when the Ashes will have been and gone, and for all that holding roles aren't really Stokes' thing, the control that Leach offers with his slow left-arm is a distinctly different skill to the magic and madness of red-raw legspin. And yet, there Rehan was in Karachi in December, claiming seven wickets in a fairytale debut, and even emerging as the first official "Nighthawk" in England's gleeful romp to victory. His time will surely come, but once again, the doubts over Stokes rather undermine his credentials. Unless he plays as an allrounder, of course…
England's other debutant spinning success of the Pakistan tour. Jacks hadn't expected his call-up until the eternally luckless Ben Foakes keeled over with the sickness bug that almost delayed the Rawalpindi Test, and within three days, he'd picked off a first-innings six-for. He might not have bowled so many overs had his fellow debutant Liam Livingstone not limped out with a knee injury, but he fulfilled his brief admirably, albeit with some of the most optimistically flighted deliveries you could hope to witness. That diet of 'hit me' balls served a purpose on one of the most lifeless pitches in world cricket, but it might not prove quite so successful against Smith, Labuschagne et al at Edgbaston. Last season for Surrey - effectively his first as an allrounder after head coach Gareth Batty encouraged him to add the string to his bow - he claimed the workmanlike figures there of 1 for 93 in 36 overs.
The man in possession … sort of. At least, when it comes to replacing Leach at short notice. This time last year, Parkinson was plucked off his sofa to make his Test debut, on the opening day of the Lord's Test against New Zealand, after Leach hurtled after a straight drive in front of the pavilion, and concussed himself as he tried to save a boundary. He was the first concussion sub in England's Test history, and though Stokes and Brendon McCullum deserved full marks for the clarity of their decision-making, Parkinson's performance was somewhat underwhelming. He did at least claim his first Test wicket with the last ball of New Zealand's innings, but not only has he never been picked again, he's slipped so far out of favour at Lancashire that he was last month loaned out to Durham in a bid for some Championship action.
All aboard the Bess Bus? We can only wait and see. Here's another man who has benefitted from Leach's prior misfortune, in this case the broken thumb in 2018 than earned his then-Somerset spin-twin Bess a maiden Test cap at the age of 20, and he showed his ticker from the outset, albeit more visibly with the bat, with a battling fifty in England's defeat to Pakistan at Lord's, and a further 49 as a nightwatcher one match later. There's little doubt that he'd make an outstanding Bazballer - and when England turned their fortunes around in South Africa in 2019-20 with a team of greenhorns including a young Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley, Bess was in the thick of it claiming five of the top six in the first innings at Port Elizabeth. His form and fortunes crumbled during Covid, and he was virtually unselectable on the tour of India, but in a dressing-room that's overflowing with positive vibes, there's reason to believe he could thrive once again.
If Josh Tongue's surprise call-up for Lord's is any indication, then Sussex's young spinner Carson ought not to leave his phone on silent in the coming days. Tongue's modest haul of 11 wickets in four Championship games for Worcestershire this summer didn't deter the selectors, most particularly Rob Key, who had witnessed his exploits for England Lions in Sri Lanka, including a five-for in the unofficial Test in Galle. And Carson, likewise, was in the wickets on that trip, claiming 4 for 94 in a spirited Bazball-style attempt to set up a run-chase (that proved a touch too ambitious in the end). He's been in the wickets this summer too, including five first-innings scalps against Yorkshire at Hove last month. Liam Patterson-White was also in the Lions mix, but has since picked up a solitary scalp in five matches for Nottinghamshire.
Hampshire's ever-ready bench-warmer, a man possessing of one of the weirdest England careers of all time. The last of his three Test appearances came against South Africa way back in 2017, and he was picked for three 50-over caps against Australia in November having most-recently played the format in October 2018. Yet he still collected a World Cup winner's medal in 2019 after being drafted in as a Mr Dependable back-up, and was also a travelling reserve for the T20 World Cup last winter too, after a similarly lengthy time in the wilderness. He seems utterly unperturbed at his lot in life, and would come into the Test set-up with some impressive red-ball form. His most recent outing for Hampshire in May reaped second-innings figures of 6 for 61, as Northants were routed by an innings.
Is this the moment for Mo? Though he officially retired from Test cricket last year, Moeen Ali was clearly tempted by the prospect of a comeback for last winter's Pakistan tour, after being courted by McCullum in the early weeks of his tenure as coach. In the end, his white-ball commitments made it all too much of a hassle, but if ever there was a window to dip back in, it is now. After all, the Hundred doesn't begin until the day after the Ashes are over, and having just won the IPL with Chennai Super Kings despite barely lifting a finger in the competition's closing stages, he might conceivably be itching to get stuck in. That said, Australia has never been a favourite opponent of Moeen's. In 11 previous Ashes Tests, his 20 wickets have come at a costly 64.65, and though he's only five away from the 200 mark, he may well decide - rather like his fellow white-ball stalwart, Jos Buttler - that that ship has sailed.