“England are ready to take a gamble with him, purely based on his potential. Now, it is time for Stokes to live up to the expectations in the historic fixture in Birmingham”
For England in recent years, a Test series against India is more or less being considered as the second-most high-profile red-ball assignment barring the Ashes. And as we are building up for yet another edition of this intense battle, which starts on August 1 at Edgbaston, the home team’s desperation to make a strong statement following the 0-4 thrashing in Australia and the 1-1 drawn home series against Pakistan earlier this summer, seems more and more evident.
As expected, the 13-member squad which England selectors announced for the first Test consists the name of Ben Stokes, even though the match could finish just a day before the all-rounder’s trial for affray begins. Even skipper Joe Root has clarified this eyebrow-raising move, in his recent media interactions.
“We are going to pick our best team and make sure we go into that series with the strongest squad,” this statement from the skipper, more or less confirm Stoke’s place in the XI, if there is no further unavoidable circumstance. “If Ben’s fit to play, he’ll be up for selection. He loves playing cricket, he loves being out there – you can see when he’s on a cricket field he’s fully engaged with what’s going on. He wants the ball all the time. He wants to be involved in what’s happening and I’m sure that will be exactly the same throughout that game.”
Yes, Stokes is rusty, hasn’t had enough match practice going into the series. Mentally, he is perhaps not in the best frame of mind. But England know, to topple the No.1 ranked team in the world, they need their impact player on board, even if he is available for just one game. Seems they have learnt their lessons following the Australia debacle.
In hindsight, for Stokes, it is a tricky situation. Due to his court appearance, the all-rounder will anyway miss the Lord’s Test, which begins on August 9. Furthermore, the Edgbaston fixture, which coincidentally is England 1000th Test match, could very well be his last for a while if he is found guilty in the Bristol trial.
Hence, amid such a situation, it is very hard for any professional to motivate himself, especially when he or she is going to represent the country. In order to get into the Test match groove, one believes Stokes now has to overcome a serious mental barrier. And make no mistake, the Indians will go hard on him since at this stage Stokes seems like the most vulnerable English player.
Though with a match figure of 8 for 118 in a recent County Championship game against Gloucestershire, the 27-year old showed signs of getting back his vintage bowling form.
Nevertheless, in this England squad, Stokes’ requirement as a batsman is much higher than his bowling prowess. Batting at No. 6 or 7, with his aggressive batsmanship, the left-hander can take the game away from the opposition in the matter of a couple of sessions, like he did in Cape Town in 2016 with a devastating 198-ball 258 back. Nevertheless, even if he doesn’t get those big scores, a quick-fire 70 or 80 can also change the course of the match. And Stokes is known for playing these breezy momentum-changing knocks.
But, here lies the million dollar question. Is Stokes in the right frame of mind to deliver such an impactful performance.
Earlier this summer, he played the Lord’s Test against Pakistan and looked very subdued (38 and 9 with bat and 3 for 73 with ball). Then a torn hamstring cut short his comeback in red-ball format. Though recovered in the time to make it to England’s ODI squad against India but again his performances (69 runs with the bat and none for 67 with the ball in three matches) were nowhere close to what we associate with Stokes.
Still, England are ready to take a gamble with him, purely based on his potential. Now, it is time for Stokes to live up to the expectations in the historic fixture in Birmingham.