Jack Leach might not be a walking embodiment of England’s brand of cricket under Ben Stokes but he is one of the hardest players to replace in the current England set-up.

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Leach is highly valued by Stokes and is one of just five ever-presents in the Stokes-McCullum era. He is England’s joint leading wicket-taker under Stokes, the bowler with the most five-wicket hauls and has bowled 179 overs more than anyone else for England since Stokes took up the captaincy at the start of the 2022 summer. His raw numbers are not spectacular but he fills a vital function for Stokes’ side.

There are several avenues England could go down when it comes to replacing Leach, but none are straightforward, especially considering the ongoing fitness concerns around Stokes himself. Here are the main three options:

Pick four specialist seamers

It’s a configuration that was occasionally favoured outside Asia under Root’s captaincy. England played without a frontline spinner for three home Tests as recently as 2021 and in the absence of a like-for-like replacement for Leach, it might be the safest way to fill out the bowling attack. The other spin-bowling options available are either batting all-rounders, out of form or offer a completely different skillset to Leach. Leach is the only English spinner to take more than 10 wickets in the County Championship this year.

England have picked seven seamers in their squad for the first two Tests; fielding an all-pace attack means they can go to Edgbaston without leaving out any of Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson. Sam Curran, who offers a different angle to England’s current options, is another who could come into the selectors’ thinking as England look for further points of difference without their first choice spinner.

A spin-bowling all-rounder?

There are plenty of possibilities here and with Stokes and McCullum in charge, who knows what’s on the table. Will Jacks, who took a six-wicket haul on debut in Rawalpindi last year, was included in England’s squad for their recent tour of New Zealand, but is still very early in his journey as a frontline red-ball finger spinner; the Surrey all-rounder has bowled just 12 overs in the County Championship so far this year.

Rehan Ahmed is perhaps the most tantalising possible replacement for Leach. The 18-year-old leg-spinner sensationally took a five-for on Test debut in Karachi but is a very different type of bowler to Leach. Ahmed has a sharp googly – which might come in handy against an Australia side with four left-handers in their top seven – but is less accustomed to bowling long spells. Even at Karachi, Ahmed bowled 20 overs fewer than Leach across the Test. The Leicestershire all-rounder has six wickets from six County Championship appearances so far this season.

Another option in this category is Dan Lawrence who is already in England’s Ashes squad, bowls decent off-spin and has three Test wickets to his name. Liam Livingstone also played as a spin-bowling all-rounder on the tour of Pakistan while Liam Dawson is probably the closest England have to a like-for-like replacement for Leach as a bowler – Dawson last played Test cricket for England in 2017.

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Speaking of spin-bowling all-rounders, there’s also a chance that England turn back to Moeen Ali, one of England’s finest ever spin-bowling all-rounders. The only snag here is that Moeen is currently retired from Test cricket. He flirted with reversing his retirement last summer but ultimately decided against it. Could the prospect of a final Ashes series tip the scales the other way?

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A specialist spinner?

England haven’t picked a specialist spinner other than Leach in a Test squad since Matt Parkinson made his Test debut as a concussion substitute at the start of last summer. It is highly unlikely that Parkinson makes a return now with the Lancashire leg-spinner currently not even earning selection for his county side at the moment. Dom Bess is another who has played for England relatively recently but he is averaging nearly 40 with the ball for Yorkshire since joining them in 2021.  Jack Carson and Liam Patterson-White are young spinners who were picked on the recent England Lions tour of Sri Lanka, but neither are likely to earn senior call-ups right now. Mason Crane and Amar Virdi toured India as reserve squad players in early 2021 but neither are close to being regulars for their counties at this point in time. There are few, if any, viable options in this category.