WEST INDIES legend Viv Richards has incredibly claimed England look like "kittens" without Ben Stokes.
Stokes has been suspended by England pending a police investigation following a brawl in Bristol.
Now, Richards believes England lack the heart and stomach to beat Australia, particularly with their "fragile" middle-order.
As the fearsome rivalry that is the Ashes gets set to reignite Richards said: "I'm a fan of Ben Stokes.
"I feel England do need that all-rounder with a little bit of heart and brings some stomach into the game as well.
"He's solid physically. I think you need all this stuff Down Under, because the Aussies ... they bring it.
"It will be quite crucial [to have him] in Australia.
"Let me say this, without Ben Stokes the English team is going to look like kittens in my opinion."
Meanwhile, the legendary West Indies batsman added he has not been impressed with England's middle-order in recent months.
Richards claimed: "What I saw when I came here [to England] … the middle order was a bit fragile.
"They kept chopping and changing. You can get away with that against West Indies, I'm not sure you will against Australia."
Ben Horne from The Daily Telegraph reports that Stokes is set to face the England Cricket Board for a disciplinary hearing as early as tomorrow, with an expectation the superstar all-rounder could be cleared for an Ashes return.
Much still depends on whether an assault investigation by Bristol police amounts to anything, but there's a prevailing feeling inside England cricket that Stokes is likely to be suspended for two Tests and therefore available to return for the third Test at the WACA.
Such a ban would allow him adequate time to recover from the fractured hand he suffered in the incident that has landed him in hot water; and warm-up with a two-day tour match in Perth a couple of days out from the Test.
England's Ashes pace stocks took another hit with Steve Finn sent home from Australia due a knee injury sustained in Perth.
Finn, the 36 Test seamer, had been called up as cover for Stokes.
England is already without workhorse Toby Roland-Jones while Finn tore left knee cartilage in a freak batting incident last weekend in Perth.
Richard Earle wrote in the Adelaide Advertiser that Finn could require an operation having pinned hopes of a Ashes comeback after a year on the England outer.
England's reliance on veterans James Anderson and Stuart Broad is more pronounced with all-rounder Moeen Ali also sidelined from the four-day tour match in Adelaide against the CA XI due to a side strain.
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