Ben Stokes went into the third day of the Gabba Test with England stating he was “fit to bowl, if required” after a knee problem suffered 24 hours earlier.
The all-rounder’s first day of Test cricket in the field after a four-month break was chastening and underlined the physical and technical challenge posed by such little warm-up cricket before this Ashes series.
First came what proved a persistent battle with the front line when bowling his fast-medium, the all-rounder’s removal of David Warner for 17 with his fourth delivery of the morning scrubbed off for a no-ball as the Australian opener went on to set up his side’s dominant position with 94.
But more troubling for England’s plans this series was the sight of Stokes pulling up and grimacing after chasing a ball to the boundary before lunch.
The vice-captain did not bowl at all in the afternoon session and when he returned in the evening, looked down on pace and struggling following a challenging day.
An England spokesperson at the Gabba confirmed before day three that Stokes had “jarred his left knee” and was being monitored, but was fit to bowl if required.
Ollie Robinson, a separate concern after leaving the field before stumps on day two, was declared to have no issues.
The Stokes no-ball issue made for a talking point on day two, with England frustrated by a lack of assistance from the on-field umpires following a breakdown in the technology that is meant to check the front line.
Bowler error was clearly at play with the “dismissal” of Warner, although it soon transpired that Stokes had also overstepped for the three preceding deliveries.
“Pathetic officiating,” said Ricky Ponting on commentary, reflecting the fact England’s vice-captain was unaware of an issue until it led to a wicket being scrubbed off.
Front foot no-balls have been the domain of the third umpire since February last year, when, after a successful trial by the ICC, a four-camera set-up was introduced for Test cricket to take the burden away from the on-field officials. In the main the new set-up has worked well.
It was not until the Warner “wicket” occurred, however, that it was learned the system is in fact missing from this first Test after breaking down upon arrival from the UK.
The job of checking the front line has returned to the middle until the system is fixed, with Rod Tucker the umpire who missed these initial no-balls.
Host broadcasters Channel 7 later showed that, in fact, 14 deliveries from Stokes’s initial five-over spell were similarly illegal because of overstepping, a problem not just for the bowler but costly for the batting side also.
“What a fast bowler needs is some sort of understanding of where their feet are because obviously you can’t see your own feet,” said Jon Lewis, England’s bowling coach, after a day of toil for his charge.
“It would have been nice for the first no-ball to be called for he could have made an adjustment.
“So from then on he would have been behind the line because he knows where his feet are.
That Stokes struggled with the issue all day – albeit with only two further no-balls called on the field – rather undermined this assertion from Lewis.