Ben Stokes under fire over 'brainless' move as Aussies fight back in fifth Test

England's tactics left much to be desired as Usman Khawaja and David Warner boosted Australia's hopes of winning the Ashes outright.

Ben Stokes in action during the fifth Ashes Test.
Ben Stokes' tactics came under fire as Australia fought back in the fifth Ashes Test. Image: Getty

A number of cricket greats have been left to question Ben Stokes' tactics on day four of the fifth Ashes Test, after Mark Wood was kept in cotton wool for the majority of the day. An Australian fightback and some more nasty weather have derailed England's push for victory and a 2-2 series draw at The Oval.

Usman Khawaja (69 not out) and David Warner (58 not out) put on their highest opening partnership of the series to steer Australia to 0-135 in chase of a record target of 384. More rain then washed out nearly half of the fourth day, leaving the Aussies with 249 to win and all 10 wickets in hand on the final day.

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As Khawaja and Warner continued their charge, questions arose as to why Stokes wasn't bringing Wood into the attack. The most dangerous bowler of the series in the past two-and-a-half Tests, Wood was held back until Australia were 0-99.

The express pacemen then sent down three overs before the rain arrived, terrorising the Aussie batters and hitting Khawaja on the back of the helmet. He left the field at the end of his spell with figures of 0-16.

Stokes persisted with spinners Moeen Ali and Joe Root rather than bringing Wood in earlier, leaving commentators confused. “You can see that England are employing an interesting strategy,” Callum Ferguson said on Channel 9.

“They’re holding back their fastest bowler, Mark Wood, in the hope they can get the ball reversing and target the stumps and try and blow a few away quickly of the Australian top order.” Aussie great Ian Healy added: “I think it’s a mistake that Wood hasn’t bowled four overs with a brand-new ball.”

Addressing concerns over Wood's fitness after play, England assistant coach Marcus Trescothick insisted it was simply a tactical move. "He's fit to bowl," Trescothick said.

"I think pretty much like everybody, there's little aches and pains that are going off the back of a big five-Test series. Both teams will be travelling in the same way at the moment. But, yeah, everyone is fit to bowl. It was a tactical decision."

Wood's eight-year career has been marred by injuries and setbacks, limiting him to just 30 Test matches. He was held out of the first two Tests before becoming a star of the series in the third and fourth.

Why didn't Mark Wood bowl more on day four of fifth Test?

Speaking on Sky Sports, former England captain Nasser Hussain said the conditions at The Oval weren't working in Wood's favour. “The pace has been sucked out of this pitch — there is no pace in it at all,” Hussain said.

“The problem with holding Wood back is this weather. Reverse swing and rain aren’t really friends. When the ground gets wet, the ball gets wet and reverse swing disappears. If it does reverse, England will go their Pakistan tactics with Wood and Stokes, who bowled before play today.”

Mark Wood in action during the fifth Ashes Test.
Mark Wood didn't bowl until Australia were 0-99 in the fifth Ashes Test. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

With five matches crammed into six weeks in what will be the earliest finish to an Ashes series in England ever, both sides have been battling injuries and fatigue. Moeen has an injured groin, while Stokes is booked in for knee surgery after the series.

"The bowlers get a bit more time to put feet up (if it rains), get a bit more work with the masseurs and physios," Trescothick said. "It's harder to bat when you have those interruptions, because of the on-off situation of concentration. You can always be a little bit fresher, and ready for each session or each spell when you get back out there."

A win for Australia at The Oval would mark the second-highest run-chase in the nation's Test history, and the eighth-best of all time. It would also give Australia a 3-1 series victory - their first in England since 2001 - while a draw would also be enough to win the series 2-1.

with AAP

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