Ben Stokes has revealed the pride he felt after being reinstated as England’s Test vice-captain.
Stokes was stripped of the role in 2017 following a late night brawl in Bristol but was restored as Joe Root’s deputy ahead of the Ashes, which starts in Birmingham on Thursday.
The all-rounder has impressed with the maturity he has shown around the England camp since being cleared on a charge of affray, with his off-field influence matched by his inspirational efforts during the triumphant World Cup campaign.
Jos Buttler had been acting as Root’s right-hand man but was happy to pass the baton back after ECB director of men’s cricket Ashley Giles and chief executive Tom Harrison recommended Stokes’ restoration.
Speaking on a weekend visit to his old club, Cockermouth CC in Cumbria, the 28-year-old said: “I love having that responsibility and it is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing.
“I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool.
“I am very good friends with Joe as well, off the field, and as much as I can do to help him through his career, not just as a captain but as a player as well, I am really looking forward to that challenge.
“I think it would have been just as exciting anyway, playing in an Ashes series is always special and they don’t come around that often but being named vice-captain again was very good words to hear when I got the call.”
Stokes headed back north after being rested for the Ireland Test at Lord’s, a chance to come down from the physical and emotional highs of his man-of-the-match performance at the same ground in the World Cup final.
That is the last spell of recuperation he can expect this summer, with five high-intensity Tests against Australia crammed into little more than six weeks.
Stokes missed the last series against the old enemy, stood down by the England and Wales Cricket Board following events in Bristol, and is more than happy to focus on the next challenge.
“Everything is sort of on the Ashes now,” he said.
“We have had that time to let everything sink in and reflect on that amazing seven weeks we have had in the World Cup, but the World Cup was half of the journey that we wanted to achieve this summer and the other half is winning the Ashes.
“Everything has been focused on what we are going to do to beat the Australians. It is going to be a busy six weeks, five Test matches against Australia isn’t easy.”
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The remaining blissful moments of the 2019 World Cup final have well and truly extinguished. England knew it was going to be next to impossible to reach the emotional high of the Lord’s final again. But just 10 days after that scarcely believable final against New Zealand, they were asked to wear the Test whites and play Ireland in a one-off Test at the ‘home of cricket’ again.
While it was a one-off Test, it opened up old wounds and brought the England team back down to earth as far as red-ball cricket is concerned. The Three Lions had, to a degree, put Test cricket on the back burner in pursuit of 50-over glory. No wonder they were bowled out for 58 by New Zealand last year, 77 by West Indies this year and 85 by the Irish.
It is this frailty in batting that is likely to be the main concern for the Englishmen when they take on a fighting-fit Australia in the first Test in Birmingham on August 1.
For reference, this is England’s squad for the first Test: Joe Root (c), Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wk), Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Olly Stone.
BEEF UP BATTING
England’s 14-member squad for the opening Test is thin on batting. Whatever combination they go with, Australia’s hungry pace attack will be lining up to have a go at them. England have decided to continue with the unimpressive Rory Burns and Joe Denly. With Jason Roy just one Test old, there is going to be a sense of dread hanging over the England dressing room even if they get a 100-run stand.
In case Burns, Denly and Roy are a part of the playing XI, then that would mean Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler coming in at No6 and No7. That leaves space for just four bowlers and if one of them is a spinner – Moeen Ali in this case – then the hosts can only pick three seamers.
SEAMERS SQUEEZED OUT
Whatever line-up England go with, some in-form seamers are most likely to be benched. If James Anderson is 100 per cent fit, then he is a first-choice selection. But the two remaining spots for quicks – provided Moeen is selected – will see a ‘fight to the bench’ between Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Olly Stone.
If that happens, it would be terribly unfair. It was England’s seam bowling trio of Broad (seven wickets), Curran (three wickets) and Woakes (six wickets) who won the Test against Ireland with the ball and then the bat. From 239-7 in the second innings, the trio took England’s total to 303 and set a target of 181, which was ultimately enough for a win. Those three seamers cleaned up the batsmen’s mess and chances are at least one of them might miss the next Test.
England seem to have accepted the fragility of their batting line-up as part of their immediate future. Unfortunately, the blokes who have done their jobs well will have to be the fall guys.
Steve Harmison believes veteran pair James Anderson and Stuart Broad hold the key to England reclaiming the Ashes this summer.
Test cricket’s oldest battle resumes at Edgbaston on Thursday, the start of a five-match Ashes series when Joe Root’s side aim to maintain the feel-good factor in English cricket after World Cup glory in the white-ball game.
It is shaping up to be a fascinating contest between two evenly-matched sides, but Harmison – a 2005 Ashes hero who played alongside Broad and Anderson during the 2009 series win – feels England have trump cards in his two former team-mates.
“The two pace attacks are different in dynamics, out-and-out pace against experience,” Harmison said an event organised by Ashes sponsors Specsavers.
“Australia have bowlers who can blast you away – Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood.
“But if they don’t get it quite right they can go at six an over. Broad and Anderson will very rarely go at six an over.
“They’ll be down on pace compared to the opposition, but they’ll have total control of what they’re doing.
“They won’t let the opposition get away from them and that is key.
“Broad and Anderson are still the first two names on the team sheet for me, because in English conditions it’s still better to have their experience than any 90 miles per hour bowler.”
Anderson, England’s leading Test wicket-taker with 575, missed the 143-run victory over Ireland with a calf strain but is expected to play against Australia.
Jofra Archer was also named in the squad after a side strain and should provide the raw pace that Harmison wants to see supplement the craft of two men who have more than 1,000 Test wickets between them.
“If you’ve got Broad and Anderson in your team, who will bowl a lot of overs, then having a quick bowler who can bowl 90 miles per hour provides a dynamic attack,” said Harmison.
“England need to have a quick bowler playing in every Test match, and hopefully Archer will be ready.
“If not, Olly Stone can maybe put himself in the shop window. He’s raw, but he bowls quickly and has got a great strike rate. He takes five-wicket hauls and I like that in fast bowlers.”
England’s batting is of concern after Ireland bowled them out for 85 in their first innings at Lord’s.
But Australia have batting frailties as well and few of their players looked in good touch during an inter-squad match at Southampton this week.
“There are big question marks over England’s batting at the top of the order,” Harmison said.
“David Warner and Steve Smith coming back helps Australia, but there are question marks over their middle order.
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