Ben Stokes expects Australia’s new clean-cut image to disappear once the Ashes get under way at Edgbaston on Thursday, with England’s newly restored vice-captain telling his teammates they must hit the tourists hard to lay down an early marker.
Just 18 days on from the emotional rollercoaster of the World Cup final, England must steel themselves for five Tests against an Australia side who have seemingly turned around their cricket since last year’s ball-tampering scandal.
Stokes, who missed the 4-0 defeat in 2017-18 while still under the cloud of the Bristol incident, is still expecting a battle over the next seven weeks and for flashpoints to arise.
He said: “It is weird Aussies trying to be nice to you. I think once you get out in the middle and cross the white line, the real competitive side of both teams will come out and Ashes are the biggest Test series played in the world.
“There is always something that happens between teams in Ashes series and I don’t think this will be any different. Both teams are desperate to win, both sets of players are desperate to perform because Ashes series are where you get scrutinised and criticised more, or praised if you do well.”
England, who have confirmed Joe Root will return to No 3 as Joe Denly drops down a spot, welcome back Jimmy Anderson after a calf problem. The uncapped Jofra Archer was denied the chance to fully prove his fitness on Tuesday when heavy rain in Birmingham forced training inside. Regardless of the XI, and the outcome of the toss, Stokes is demanding instant impact.
He said: “I think that first morning of any series is when you want to stamp your authority as a team with bat and ball. Getting off to a good start can make it flow throughout the series.
“You want to be the team on top and win that first day because hopefully that can carry on into the next four. If you go 1-0 down in a series it can be hard to come back from so you want to start very well.”
Asked how important it will be to get on top of David Warner, the firebrand opener who served a 12-month ban for his part in the Cape Town scandal, Stokes replied: “He is a player who can take games away from you. He is a phenomenal batsman and very dangerous opener. So to tie him down and not let him establish his authority against us would be a really big plus.
“We don’t want to give anything away to any of their batsmen. We want to let them know we are here to be serious and everyone in the changing room is desperately trying to get that urn back because it’s not good them having it.”
Such drive and passion from Stokes was absent from England’s Ashes campaign 18 months ago, when Root appeared slightly isolated as a leader. It led to Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, claiming he was like a “little boy” and “soft” when speaking publicly.
Stokes, who missed last week’s Test win over Ireland to recharge at home, has returned to the vice-captaincy. It is a reward for both his World Cup heroics and 18 months of hard work, with the all-rounder looking to repay his old friend.
He said: “What I’ve always tried to do is in the past is to take all the little pressures off Joe’s shoulders. He’s captain and all the pressures he has are ginormous. In an Ashes series that goes up 50%. There are other little things that can affect a captain mentally, so it’s a case of anything I can do to help him.”
Asked if he feels ready to step up and lead should Root go down injured in the series, Stokes said: “Touch wood, nothing does happen but I’ve played enough cricket now with this group – especially Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – to understand what works for them. If anything happens I know I have a group of senior players who can help me through that.”