‘When a job calls, you need to stand up’: Ben Stokes ready to lead ODI rookies
At the halfway stage England’s run of white-ball fixtures was struggling to capture the imagination but seven positive Covid-19 tests and an entire squad plunged into isolation have seen the levels of intrigue rise significantly.
Ben Stokes will lead out a team of fringe players and rookies in Cardiff on Thursday for the first of three one-day internationals against Pakistan, a completely new squad – nine of whom are uncapped in the format – having been rustled up from county cricket in response to the crisis.
It comes just days after Eoin Morgan defended England’s decision not to test out a couple of newcomers during the final throes of the one-sided series against Sri Lanka and said the last thing they wanted was for Stokes, building up his fitness at Durham after finger surgery in April, to be rushed back early.
There are no certainties in the pandemic era, clearly, and now Stokes has called on the least experienced England one-day side since 1985 to enjoy the moment, be it the likes of Will Jacks or Brydon Carse, Lions cricketers in their early to mid-20s, or senior county pros such as John Simpson and David Payne.
“These are guys we haven’t seen in an England shirt but that’s because of how strong we have been,” said Stokes. “I’m looking forward to leading out the next exciting cricketers coming through in England and who will no doubt be in an England shirt in the future. It just came quicker than we expected.
“I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself or the guys who will be playing. I just want to make sure everyone has a good time.”
Stokes was spending his Monday evening recovering from a day in the field for Durham at Edgbaston when the call came from Chris Silverwood; the head coach had been on a scheduled break himself but was now part of the England team’s scramble to find an entirely fresh set of players from the outside.
“It was the last call I was expecting. It was short and sharp,” said Stokes. “Spoons [Silverwood] straight up asked me the question: ‘Can you come and do it?’ I was like: ‘Yeah’. After the call happened my wife [jokingly] sent me a screenshot of an article saying: ‘England aren’t going to rush Ben Stokes back.’
“But it was like when I came back for Durham a bit early. My job needed me to do something, so I had to stand up and do that, and it’s the same with this. This is earlier than planned from a medical and fitness point of view but when a job comes and calls you, you need to stand up and make yourself available.”
After clearing their PCR tests England’s new-look 18-man squad trained on Wednesday afternoon and Silverwood has an abundance of options. Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence must surely feature, at least, after being asked to give up vital red-ball preparation for the Test series against India in August.
Thereafter it will be a case of which players the head coach wishes to examine first. Saqib Mahmood has enjoyed recent success against a number of the opposition during this year’s Pakistan Super League, while Stokes talked up Carse, his Durham teammate, as an “X factor” quick with batting potential.
As Stuart Broad joked on Tuesday, spare a thought for the Pakistan team analyst who saw bowling plans for the original squad shredded in an instant, although Babar Azam, captain of the tourists and the No 1 batsman in 50-over cricket at present, insisted the homework has since been done.
“I know a few of them having played in T20 Blast and those we don’t know we have researched their performances,” said Azam. “We have seen footage of their county matches and we can’t take any player playing for England lightly.”
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Barring Stokes and, to a lesser degree, the returning James Vince, the visitors face the 50-over world champions in name only; a golden opportunity for only a second bilateral ODI series win in England and first since 1974. Unlike the Sri Lanka series just gone, it should make for a fascinating contest.