The first test of this summer’s series begins today at Edgbaston
Ben Stokes has told his team a big Ashes summer will “never be forgotten” as he prepares to lead England’s battle to reclaim the urn for the first time since 2015.
Stokes already owns a significant slice of Ashes history, with his match-winning century at Headingley four years ago inked into the folklore of cricket’s most storied series.
He and his 10 team-mates will step out at a reliably raucous Edgbaston on Friday morning with the chance to add another memorable moment in a rivalry that echoes through the ages.
Speaking on the eve of the first Test, he said: “Any individual who finds themselves either having a great series or a great individual performance, that will never be forgotten.
“When the Ashes comes around it’s the big one on the calendar. Legacies are defined by the people who talk about the individual, and we all know if you do well in the Ashes you’re going to be spoken about throughout many a year.”
Stokes also called on the Birmingham crowd, who have made a name for themselves as the liveliest on the English circuit, to seize their chance to play a role in lifting the hosts.
“The crowd here is so, so good and loud. It’s amazing. We know what it’s like in Australia..when we’re at the MCG, all these places when the home crowd is on top of you, you do know you’re the away team.
“What I would say to the people who come here and watch is regardless of how things are going out there, just be with us. What we’re trying to do, over and over again, is make it worth their time coming to watch us play cricket.”
Stokes has certainly delivered on that promise since taking over as skipper. In insisting his teams stay permanently on the front foot and take the attacking option whenever they can, he has not only overhauled their results – with 11 wins from 13 matches – he has revamped their identity.
Urged on by a like-minded head coach in Brendon McCullum, he has never wavered in his commitment to the philosophy and laughed off the idea that the arrival of Australia would change things now.
“I don’t think there’s any question around how we are going to go out and play our cricket, even though it’s against Australia,” he said.
“All I want is for the team to go out there and keep pushing the boundaries of what we’ve achieved so far. As long as we can stay true to that then I will be a happy and proud captain regardless of the result at the end of the series.
“If we play the way we know we’re capable of then I know we are able to beat any team. I know that’s a big statement in itself but I think what we’ve done over the last year means we’re able to say that.”
Stokes’ confidence extended to naming his XI two days out, while counterpart Pat Cummins opted to his keep his counsel until the toss. Having already tempted Moeen Ali out of retirement to step in for injured spinner Jack Leach, there was only one real decision to make over the final seamer.
In the end he opted for Stuart Broad’s vast experience over the explosive pace of Mark Wood. The decision was made primarily on instinct but is backed up by the numbers, with the 36-year-old boasting 131 wickets in 35 Ashes Tests, with 84 of those in home conditions.
“Generally, I’ve stuck with my heart and my gut throughout my captaincy so far. Broady’s record against Australia is incredible and it’s very hard to look past someone like that, in the opening game of the series,” he said.
Stokes’ own fitness remains a huge source of intrigue, as he strives to return to his role as England’s all-action all-rounder. His ability to chip in as a bowler has been compromised in recent times by chronic left-knee problems, but he has gradually ramped up his bowling since arriving in Birmingham and appears increasingly ready to throw himself into the fray.
“The last three days have been really good for my confidence, I’ve been able to run in with more intensity day by day so I have got myself in a really good position to be able to bowl,” he said.
“I’m not speaking too soon, who knows where I could be in two weeks’ time? But hopefully I don’t have to worry about that.”
Asked if he was able to operate at 100%, he offered a wry smile and replied: “I’ll give 100 per cent of what I’ve got at the time. I think that’s a good way to say it.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub