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Joe Root's T20 position safe despite Ben Stokes' return nearing

Joe Root cuts through the covers Getty Images

The return of Ben Stokes will not threaten the position of Joe Root in England's T20 team, according to stand-in head coach Paul Farbrace.

Stokes will make his return from a hamstring injury in Durham's T20 Blast match against Yorkshire at Headingley on July 5. While he will play as a specialist batsman, the England management have decided that, as long as he comes through it unscathed, he will be available for selection for the third T20 against India in Bristol on July 8 as an allrounder.

And while Farbrace, who has taken charge of the England side for the T20s against Australia and India (and would appear to be in pole position to assume the role of head coach in September 2019), accepts Stokes' return "gives the selectors an issue," he insists he "can't believe anybody" would drop Root from any England side.

"Is Root's place locked in?" Farbrace asked. "In my mind 100 percent. I can't believe anybody else in our set up would argue against that.

"He is world class in all forms of the game. That innings in Mumbai allowed us to win that fantastic run chase because of his nous. You do need nous and you do need people playing in different ways. There will be times when he is the outstanding player in a T20 game and get us over the line because of his nous and his high level of skill. You do need the best players. The best players adapt and score runs whether it is 20 overs or 50 overs or Test match cricket and he is without doubt one of the finest players in the world.

"You do need different style players. You don't want everybody playing the same way. You will play on wickets sometimes when you are chasing when you need someone who is able to rotate the strike and knock it around and be smart in the middle. And that is the role Joe played at Edgbaston. He could go anywhere from No. 3 to No. 6 and it is nice for us to have that flexibility and that cool, calm head who could go anywhere in the order.

"Absolutely Root always plays. You need your best batsman in 50 over and T20 cricket. We saw at Edgbaston that the most exciting stuff is strong, good cricket shots and not just slogging. The balls that people didn't strike particularly well were the ones where they tried to over hit it."

The fact that Root's position is, in any way, a debating point is a reflection of England's remarkable strength in depth in white-ball batting. With Jos Buttler, who set a new record for England's fastest IT20 half-century on Wednesday night, now apparently nailed on as an opening batsmen and Jason Roy, Alex Hales (who almost matched Buttler's record) and Jonny Bairstow (who hit his first ball for six) pushing for places at the top of the order, something has to give. Root's strike-rate (129.45), while respectable, is beneath that of Hales (137.82), Roy (136.07), Stokes (136.17) and Eoin Morgan (132.68). Only Bairstow (121.63) has a lower strike-rate than Root but he is probably a better player since returning to the side.

But one thing nobody should doubt is that Stokes, when fit, returns. And while some might question Morgan's position, his influence as captain has been huge. Both players look, for now, automatic selections.

"Ben is a three-in-one player," Farbrace said. "He can bowl and he is the best fielder. You are going to bring him in as soon as he is available. It might mean another shift in your batting order but he's not a bad bloke to be coming into your team.

"It is a great problem to have, really. And as Eoin has said, we are still trying to find the right balance. You could easily argue a couple of others could have had a go as opener and maybe Hales walked to the crease in Edgbaston with a bit of a point to prove. It is a great position to be in."

The plan, for now, would appear to see England use the next 12 months to experiment with the personnel and batting order in T20 cricket. Then, 12 months ahead of the next World T20 in Australia, they will start to define those plans and select a more predictable side with a more predictable batting order.

We may also see less rotation of players in T20 cricket as its importance rises again ahead of that global event. Noticeably, there are currently no plans to rest Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Moeen Ali or anyone else who might be involved in the Test squads for any of the ODI or T20 matches against India.

All of which will leave the England management with a tricky job. While the competition for places should be helpful, combining that with managing the personal ambitions and egos of individuals while ensuring the team continues to play selfless, fearless cricket could be an issue. But Farbrace, while recognising the issue, is confident it can be handled.

"It's something that you want in your team," he said. "You want to have competition for places and, when a team is playing as well as it has been, lads want to be a part of it. Not just those in the 11 but those who are in the 15 as well.

"There are people who miss out who desperately want to be in that 15 because they know it is a great place to be. The team are playing great cricket and they have a lot of fun doing it. They want to be part of that.

"It is a nice problem to have but it is something we do talk a lot about. I have had some good conversations today with players to make sure [they realise] we are trying to experiment and make sure we give ourselves the best chance come 2020 and the next World T20."