Ben Stokes has withdrawn from England’s T20 World Cup title defence, leaving them without their half-centurion from the final in 2022. Here’s what their starting XI could look like without him.

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After returning for England’s 50-over World Cup defence last year, there will be no repeat for Stokes in 2024. Stokes was instrumental in the 2022 T20 World Cup final, scoring an unbeaten half-century as England struggled to chase down the runs. While Stokes only makes sporadic appearances in white-ball international cricket, with his focus on the Test captaincy, not having their biggest of big-match players in a World Cup will be a massive loss, even if it does ease certain selection headaches for Matthew Mott and co.

In his absence, England’s XI will likely look like an amalgamation of their side from the Caribbean series last December, with a smattering of their big guns back in. However, the starting team to face Scotland in their opening group stage game on June 4 will depend on which direction they go in several key areas of debate.

Starting with the batters, the top six pretty much writes itself with Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone all shoo-ins from England’s last campaign. Of those who missed out last time, Phil Salt’s centuries against the West Indies all but locked in his place, while Will Jacks probably takes the last spot. The question is the order in which to put them.

Four of that top six are probably best suited to opening in T20s and few with the nous to ice a chase as Stokes did in 2022. Buttler would be well suited as a finisher, but it wouldn’t make the most of his excellence as an opener. That was a significant debate in years past that had come down in favour of him batting at the top. Switching from that would be, in some respects, a step back

However, a middle order of Livingstone and Brook at five and six doesn’t inspire confidence in a nervy chase. Brook hasn’t played professional cricket since the 2023 World Cup due to personal reasons, while Livingstone looked more comfortable when moved up the order against the West Indies. A move down to No.5 for Buttler, with Bairstow perhaps partnering Salt at the top and Jacks at three, could be a makeshift, albeit not ideal, solution to this.

While on paper that top six looks, and is, intimidating, without Stokes to round out a chase in ways only he can do, whatever solution England find leaves questions over their finishing ability.

One thing England are used to by this point, however, is relying on other all-rounders to balance their side other than Stokes. In 2022 it was Sam Curran’s tournament, and his transformation from bit-part middle-over bowler to go-to death specialist was a defining part of England’s win. While he’s not quite managed to find the effectiveness he had in that tournament since then, there were signs in the Caribbean that the ingredients were there.

There are more question marks over whether Moeen Ali will demand a place in the XI, a decade on from his first appearance in a T20 World Cup. England have two spinners at their disposal who both bat in the top six in Jacks and Livingstone, with Adil Rashid also a lock. On potentially hard pitches in the Caribbean, there could be more of a case for squeezing an extra seamer into the XI rather than going in with three quicks, which seems light. Livingstone’s spin was preferred at several stages of the 50-over World Cup in India to Moeen’s, and he’s grown into a near-fully fledged all-rounder. While he might not make the starting XI bearing in mind conditions, he’ll provide the option for a different bowling balance depending on how the tournament pans out.

As for the quicks, of the 2022 squad members, David Willey has retired from international cricket and Chris Jordan has only played one T20I in the last 12 months. That leaves Mark Wood, Reece Topley, Chris Woakes and Tymal Mills as potential returnees. There’s also hope that Jofra Archer could be fit for England’s warm-up series against Pakistan and with Gus Atkinson having been fast-tracked to international cricket last year, that makes the equation six into three for the XI.

Out of the six, Topley is the most secure while Wood was integral in 2022. Depending on Archer’s fitness, England might want to rotate between him and Wood but the prospect of them bowling in tandem is mouthwatering. Woakes is no longer as guaranteed a fixture in England’s white ball bowling attacks as he was nine months ago. Aside from his 50-over World Cup struggles, he was expensive during the December West Indies tour, and with Curran in the XI and Topley to open the bowling, he could be squeezed out in favour of more raw pace which provides options at both ends of the innings and to provide breakthroughs in the middle. Nevertheless, if England choose to only play one of Wood or Archer in the XI, they will likely have to choose between Woakes and Atkinson.

Predicted: England’s starting XI for the 2024 T20 World Cup

  1. Jos Buttler (c & wk)
  2. Phil Salt
  3. Will Jacks
  4. Jonny Bairstow
  5. Harry Brook
  6. Liam Livingstone
  7. Sam Curran
  8. Chris Woakes
  9. Mark Wood/Jofra Archer
  10. Adil Rashid
  11. Reece Topley