Ben Stokes says hard work over recent months has given him “best chance” to play full role with ball in Ashes; Stokes’ knee injury flared up in New Zealand in February and he has only bowled one over since – watch England vs Ireland live on Sky Sports from Thursday
England captain Ben Stokes says he has given himself the “best opportunity” to play a full role with the ball during The Ashes as he battles a longstanding knee problem.
Stokes’ injury flared up during the series draw in New Zealand in February and he has only bowled one over since, in the Indian Premier League for Chennai Super Kings on April 3.
The 31-year-old played just two matches for Chennai due to niggles and non-selection but says he was able to work on his fitness ahead of a bumper Test summer.
That starts against Ireland at Lord’s on Thursday, live on Sky Sports Cricket, before the five-match Ashes series gets under way at Edgbaston on Friday June 16.
“My knee is in a much better place than it was in Wellington,” Stokes told reporters at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday.
“I have got myself into a position where I am not able to look back and regret or say I have not given myself the best opportunity to play a full role with the ball this summer.
“I have worked incredibly hard with the medical team in Chennai, who were liaising with the ECB guys. I have got myself into a place where I feel like I am back at 2019, 2020 with my body.
“The mind and the body are different but I have given myself the best chance. We know what the problem is and it’s about managing it with workload and the medical team, just to get through it.
“The great thing about sport and being out in the arena is that it gives you adrenaline, helps you do something in a game you are probably not able to do in training.
“Hopefully I can turn up every day and bowl like I have been able to do before this little niggle showed up.”
Atherton: Critical that Stokes can be an all-rounder
Sky Sports Cricket pundit and former England captain Michael Atherton:
“Stokes’ knee is a concern because of the balance of the side. He has asked for good, true pitches against Australia but if England only have four bowlers that puts a lot of work on those bowlers, one or two of whom [in James Anderson and Stuart Broad] are cracking on in years.
“Stokes’ ability to fully fulfil that all-rounder function is absolutely critical. I wouldn’t expect him to bowl too much in this Ireland game but hopefully his knee will be okay come the Ashes.
“It would be a big blow if it wasn’t. A Test match day of 90 overs for just four bowlers can be a hard ask, particularly against Australia’s Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, who can bat long.”
Stokes: England will not change style in Ashes
Stokes did not disclose what the precise problem with his knee was, nor whether he would bowl in the four-day fixture against Ireland.
However, he was adamant that the aggressive style of cricket England have played to win 10 of their 12 Tests under his captaincy would carry on against Australia.
Stokes added: “I find myself answering the same question – is this going to continue? I think it’s pretty clear we have found a way to get the best out of ourselves as individuals and as a team.
“We have seen success in it. It’s not always going to work as you win games and you lose games but what we have been able to do is find a formula that works for the individuals we have in the dressing room at the moment. That won’t change because of the opposition.
“It’s a different team, we haven’t played Australia, but we concentrate on what we do. We always respect the opposition but we concentrate on ourselves and what we bring.
“The Ashes is one of those series with unbelievable history and will continue to capture the imagination of the whole world. We all know what it means. The whole team – players and staff – are very excited about this.”
Ireland rolled England for 85 on day one of the sides’ Lord’s Test in 2019 before the hosts rallied to claim a 143-run victory after bowling their opponents out for just 38 in the fourth innings.
Ireland have earned 50-over and T20 World Cup victories over England in the past – the most recent of those coming in Australia last autumn as they won a rain-affected game at the MCG.
But Andy Balbirnie’s men have lost each of their six Tests since being awarded red-ball status in 2017, including a 2-0 defeat in Sri Lanka last month when they were twice beaten by an innings.
Stokes said: “You have to respect every opposition, regardless of who it is. They are an international team who have progressed so far in the last two or three years, especially in white-ball cricket.”
‘Tongue has x-factor – he can change the game’
England will unleash uncapped Worcestershire seamer Josh Tongue at Lord’s with the 25-year-old – who contemplated retirement as a shoulder injury sidelined him for 15 months between 2021 and 2022 – picked alongside Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts in the pace attack.
James Anderson (groin) and Ollie Robinson (ankle) are resting up ahead of The Ashes.
Stokes said: “Tonguey is someone who has been spoken about ever since he came on the scene for Worcestershire.
“He possesses a bit more pace than most of the guys who are next in line and has started off well this season.
“Having someone who is able to bowl at that extra pace and can come on and change where the game is going, have that x-factor, is great to have in your side. I am looking forward to getting him involved and giving him his cap.
“It was a good opportunity for Josh to not only show what he can do but also see what his character is like and how he can influence the game in a role I see him playing if he did play a few more games this summer.”
England XI to face Ireland at Lord’s: Ben Duckett, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Harry Brook, Ben Stokes (captain), Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Stuart Broad, Matthew Potts, Josh Tongue, Jack Leach.
Watch England’s Test summer live on Sky Sports Cricket. The four-day fixture against Ireland takes place at Lord’s from Thursday with the Ashes series under way at Edgbaston from June 16.