Ben Stokes content with own fitness, oozing positivity on eve of Ashes series

15 June,2023 07:57 PM IST |  London  |  mid-day online correspondent

Facing reporters wearing a bucket hat, Ben Stokes was calmness personified while many in cricket are getting caught up in the excitement of what is likely to be an explosive few weeks between two long-time rivals, starting with the first test at Edgbaston from Friday

Ben Stokes (Pic: AFP)

A confident Ben Stokes believes is ready to stand up to scrutiny in the most storied Ashes test series against Australia. About the team's attacking mindset, which he insists is ingrained in his players now and is not for changing under his leadership.

And about bringing Moeen Ali out of test retirement, one of Stokes' biggest decisions in his short tenure.

Facing reporters wearing a bucket hat, Stokes was calmness personified while many in cricket are getting caught up in the excitement of what is likely to be an explosive few weeks between two long-time rivals, starting with the first test at Edgbaston from Friday.

England, Stokes said, was ready for Australia with its "Bazball" approach - whether it proves successful this summer or not.

"We have found a style and a way in which we want to play our cricket that has been very successful and regardless of the opponent, that's what we are going to stick to," Stokes said.

"Obviously, conditions can dictate how you can do that but we will always try to adapt to the conditions and still have that positive mode, which is to go out and have as much fun as we can and always look to put pressure on the opposition regardless of who it is. Not facing the man, but facing the ball."

Part of Stokes' general optimism must be the improvement in his own health, which has been of major concern after his knee issues during the tour of New Zealand in February and the fact he played only twice for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League - sending down just one over for 18 runs.

Stokes - with strapping around his left knee - has been seen bowling at full steam over the past week, including on a squad trip to St. Andrews in Scotland last week, and said the buildup to the Ashes has been "really good for my confidence."

"I have bowled every day so far and been able to run in with more intensity, day by day," the allrounder said. "I have got myself in a real good place to be able to bowl. But (bowling coach) David Saker has obviously come in and he mentioned something to me last week when we were in Scotland. He said if you are still bowling by the fourth and fifth test, we have done something right."

Also Read: Ashes Series: Three key factors that will define outcome of England vs Australia

Asked if he might choose to play at 80% to last the series, Stokes said with a smile: "I think I'll give 100% of what I've got all the time."

That is Stokes all over. He lives for the moment, including with his emotions and feelings.

Like his selection of Ali, who has been retired from test cricket for nearly two years but is back as a spin option as the emergency replacement for the injured Jack Leach.

Ali might be someone Australia's batters want to take on this series, though Stokes, as ever, looked for the positives.

"He is a player who can produce unbelievable match-winning performances, albeit a long time ago (in tests), and it was something I couldn't look past. That was a stomach and a heart feeling rather than my brain. I've generally stuck with my gut and my heart throughout my whole captaincy so far. Moeen Ali is going to come in here and I'm looking at what he can offer to this team on his best days and not worrying about anything else," Stokes said.

That optimistic attitude sums up Stokes' relationship with his teammates, which he has attempted to retain despite now being in charge of them.

"One of the most important things for me being captain was to still be able to have the same trust for making big decisions as captain and just making the guys in the dressing room believe that they are incredible players rather than anything else, and making them believe in themselves more than they probably did before.

"That was the biggest thing I wanted to do - keep that trust factor between the relationship we had before but also make them believe they were better than they originally thought. Hopefully I have done that."

It seems to be working, with the English having won 12 of their 17 tests under Stokes having won just one of its previous 17. They haven't lost a series under the Stokes-Brendon McCullum axis.

Australia, the newly crowned world test champion, is about to put that record to the test and seek to keep the urn.

"As soon as one (Ashes) series finishes, you're already looking forward to the next," Australia captain Pat Cummins said on Thursday.

"It's exciting. This one, in particular, seems like it has got a little bit more on it. The whole cricketing world stops for a month and puts their attention on this series. Luckily we're in the middle of it."

Australia will announce its team at the toss. England named its lineup on Wednesday.

(With AP inputs)

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