England's former tormentor-in-chief Mitchell Johnson believes the potential loss of all-rounder Ben Stokes does not end their hopes of retaining the Ashes during the winter’s battle with Australia.
Test vice-captain Stokes was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm outside a Bristol nightclub last month, hours after England’s one-day victory over West Indies, and remains under police investigation.
England cricket bosses, who have suspended the 26-year-old from international duty until further notice, have said that Stokes will not travel to Australia with his team-mates “at this stage”. England fly to Australia on Saturday.
“I don’t think you can read too much into what people are commenting on ‘no Stokes, no England’,” said Johnson, who took 37 wickets during the 2013-14 Ashes as Australia pummelled England 5-0.
“I think England can win without him. I think in a contest at that high level, anyone can win. If you’re Australia, you don’t want to be thinking they can’t win because Stokes isn’t there. That can bite you in the backside pretty quickly.”
After landing in Australia, Joe Root’s England will have just under a month to prepare for the opening Test at The Gabba in Brisbane on 23 November.
Root will be bidding to lead the tourists to their first Ashes win Down Under since 2010-11, and while both sides enter the contest on the back of patchy form, Johnson remains convinced Australia will prevail.
“I’m still confident that Australia can win the series, but the performances recently haven’t been great from both sides,” added Johnson, who retired from international cricket in 2015.
“The wickets are a little bouncier and faster, so some of these new guys [in the England team] might find it harder, and that’s where the Australian bowling attack is strong.”