Ben Stokes expects a healthy dose of white line fever to keep tensions high during the Ashes, guaranteeing “some sort of theatre” between England and Australia.
Australia have worked hard at cleaning up their image after the nadir of last year’s sandpaper scandal, with an overt emphasis on team culture and on-field behaviour.
Their overhaul is more about ethos than personnel though, with all the three of the individuals involved in the ball-tampering conspiracy – Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – in line to return to the Test side for the first time since events in Cape Town.
Stokes, who shared the Rajasthan Royals dressing room with Smith during this year’s Indian Premier League, has noted their change in approach but would not be surprised to see things flare up in the heat of battle.
“It is weird Aussies trying to be nice to you,” he said with a smile after rain forced England to train indoors at Edgbaston.
“But I think once you get out in the middle and cross the white line the real competitive side of both teams will come out. The Ashes are the biggest Test series played in the world. There is always something that happens between teams in Ashes series and I don’t think this will be any different.
“Both teams are desperate to win, both sets of players are desperate to perform because Ashes series are where you get looked at. It is where you are scrutinised or criticised more or if you do well you get more praise.
“Everyone knows that as well, all 22 guys know that, so I can assure you there will be some sort of theatre that goes on out there.”
Stokes has been on a redemptive path of his own over the past 12 months – though he has made it clear in the past he dislikes the notion.
In a fortnight it will be exactly the anniversary of his acquittal on a charge of affray, following a late-night brawl in Bristol that saw him axed from an Ashes tour and stripped of the vice-captaincy.
Now he has his chance to help win back the urn and do so as Joe Root’s right-hand man, having been restored to his previous position.
“What I’ve always tried to do is in the past is to take all the little pressures off Joe’s shoulders,” he said of the his role as deputy.
“He’s captain and all the pressures he has are enormous. In an Ashes series that goes up 50 per cent. There are other little things that can affect a captain mentally so anything I can do to help him.”
It has been four years since Stokes played the last of his nine Tests against Australia but he remembers well how it feels to be on the eve of a series against the old enemy.
“The night before is the worst, (needing) sleeping pills is the best way to describe it,” he said.
“You’re anxious, there’s excitement. It’s one of the greatest sporting environments you can be in, the first morning of an Ashes series. It’s hard to explain, you can only really explain it when you’re out there. It is awesome.
“You can’t feel your way into any Ashes series – you have to hit the ground running. There’s no time for easing into a spell or finding your way with the bat, you have to be switched on from ball one.”
England all-rounder Ben Stokes pulled off a remarkable catch in the deep to cap a fine day as England overpowered South Africa in their World Cup opener at The Oval on Thursday.
Stokes hit 89 and took two wickets during the hosts’ 104-run victory at The Oval but the icing on the cake was one of the greatest catches in World Cup history.
Diving back after Andile Phehlukwayo hit Adil Rashid towards him at deep midwicket, Stokes leapt and took a one-handed catch behind him with the effort labelled “the catch of the century” by former England spinner Phil Tufnell on BBC.
As expected, reactions were swift and profuse. Here are the best from Twitter.
Ben Stokes has claimed his fight near a Bristol nightclub and subsequent court case could be the best thing that has happened to him.
The England and Durham all-rounder was found not guilty of affray after denying the charge in August last year following a six-day trial at Bristol Crown Court. Stokes was not selected by England as he awaited his trial and missed the 2017-18 Ashes series in Australia.
The 27-year-old, currently playing for Indian Premier League side Rajasthan Royals, said in an interview with the Daily Mirror that the incident had changed him for good.
“It must be a subconscious thing that I was that close to my career ending and being thrown away just like that, maybe that is it,” he said. “Thinking all this is going to be taken away from me.
“That might be the thing that has changed the way I do things. It sounds silly, but could Bristol have been the best thing that could have happened to me?
“Who knows, it could have been something else, but just in terms of my way of thinking.
“Nothing good happens after midnight. I still go out, but if you mean going ‘out out’? I don’t go ‘out out’ any more. I used to love going out and celebrating with the lads, but we can do that in the hotel and I don’t miss it.”
After his trial Stokes was cleared to continue his international career by the England and Wales cricket Board after pleading guilty to two charges of bringing the game into disrepute at a disciplinary hearing. He received a back-dated eight-match ban and was fined £30,000. While he awaited the police charges he missed five Tests and 11 white-ball internationals.
Stokes said he returned to action with England too soon and should not have played in the third Test against India at Trent Bridge four days after the trial.
“The trial was a tough week and then everything after it too,” he said. “I’d say it was the toughest two weeks of my life.
“Walking out at Trent Bridge was absolutely awful. All I could hear were boos. Even if there weren’t any. It was a dreadful, dreadful week. I carried that week into the game with me. I shouldn’t have played.”