Ben Stokes and Joe Root at Woburn Golf Course © Investec
You’d have thought that Ben Stokes would be sick of the sight of batsmen teeing off after the agonies he endured at the hands of Carlos Brathwaite in the World T20 final in Kolkata earlier this month.
And yet, after spending the morning in the company of Joe Root at Woburn Golf Course in Buckinghamshire, it is safe to surmise that Stokes – and the rest of the England team – have parked that near-miss in India and are ready to take the positives (as only sportsmen can) into their next international assignment, the Test series against Sri Lanka that gets underway next month.
“I’d been back in the country for about eight or nine days before I realised I wanted to get back to training,” said Stokes, whose hectic round of sponsors’ engagements in recent days – from a game of street cricket in Soho to a bout of WWE in Newcastle – reflects the extent to which his and England’s exploits, in victory and defeat, have captured the imagination this winter.
Though the winter ended in a manner that Stokes will not wish to dwell on for too much longer – with his head in his hands and Brathwaite’s fourth six in a row disappearing into Eden Gardens stands – England’s shortcomings in that contest cannot detract from the sense that a real team ethic has been forged in the course of 18 extraordinary months.
“The amount of people who’ve said how excited they were by the World Cup, and how we should be proud of what we achieved, it was a lot more than I thought it would be,” said Root. “That is really nice to see. That puts a smile on your face and gives us a lot of confidence.”
The squads vary from format to format, and the captains too, with Alastair Cook and Eoin Morgan taking charge of red- and white-ball cricket respectively. However, Stokes and Root have been integral players throughout, from England’s reboot in limited-overs cricket to their hard-earned Test series wins against Australia and South Africa, and Root in particular believes that the confidence forged in one format can be carried across to the others.
“It’s a completely different playing XI, but we are implementing how we want to play in all three formats,” he said. “Cooky has been like Morgs in reminding us that we got here by playing in this way for our counties and through the last 18 months, so let’s keep trying to push that. We don’t want to get to a certain level and stop, we want to keep trying to improve and play positive and aggressive cricket.”
Teeing off: Stokes prepares to unleash at Woburn © Investec
“In one-day cricket, I think perceptions have been changed for a while now,” he added. “We’ve said previously we’ve got inexperience and we are going to make mistakes, but we want to play a certain way and everyone’s committed to doing that.
“We won’t get it right every time, but the more we do that, we’ll get better and better, and we’ll learn along the way, both from getting it right and getting it wrong. Hopefully throughout this summer we’ll get more consistent and become a really strong side.”
England’s motivation for this summer, said Root, was to claim the Test series wins against Sri Lanka and Pakistan that eluded them in their last campaigns against each team – at home in 2014 and away in the UAE last winter. That, he added, would complete a clean sweep of the trophies available to England in Test cricket, and help to propel them towards another of their goals – the reclaiming of the No.1 Test ranking that they last held in 2011-12.
“Of course, that is obviously a main goal of ours,” he added. “But as with anything, you can look miles ahead and fall miles short, so you have to take it very slowly, one series at a time, each game as it comes. If we win both series it would be a huge achievement.”
England’s batting line-up for the first Test against Sri Lanka, at Headingley on May 19, may be significantly altered from the team that was beaten in the fourth and final Test against South Africa at Centurion in January. Not only are they now looking for a replacement for James Taylor, who was sadly forced to retire last week with a serious heart condition, there is talk of Root – the best batsman in the team – being pushed up the order to No. 3, from where he will be better placed to influence the course of an innings.
“Who knows?” said Root, who averages more than 65 at positions 4 and 5, from where he has scored eight of his nine Test hundreds. “There have been lots of runs scored in the County Championship so far, but I’ve not had any conversations with the coaches yet about batting orders. I feel pretty settled at 4 but if they want to change things up, I’m sure we’ll have a discussion and see what’s best for the side.”
One man who would prefer Root to stay exactly where he is, however, is Stokes, who has played some of his finest innings alongside his team-mate at four-down – not least their game-changing stand of 161 in the Lord’s Test against New Zealand last summer.
“His record at 4 and 5 has been incredible,” said Stokes. “I’d personally like him to stay at 4 as he’s been so successful. When we’ve got off to bad starts, he’s come in and still kept the run-rate going, and also it would mean he’s closer to where I’m batting, and I enjoy batting with him.”
The reason for their success as a partnership, Stokes added, was their shared sense of enjoyment and relaxation in the heat of the battle.
“Some players are very keen and switched on when they are batting in the middle,” he said. “That is them. They stay with themselves in their own bubble, and you know that and respect that, you let them do what they want.
“But me and Joe are very similar in the middle – having a laugh, not taking things too seriously, letting things go on. It lets us both play our natural games, which we want to do anyway, but it almost frees us up even more. I know Rooty scores quick, he knows I score quickly. We don’t put any pressure on each other.”
As for Root himself, he finished the World T20 as one of the most talked-about young cricketers in the game, with most commentators agreeing it is a three-way shoot-out between him, India’s Virat Kohli and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson when it comes to identifying the best current batsman in the world.
The player himself, however, only has eyes for the team cause. “You hear stuff and it’s nice when people say nice things about you, but it’s about scoring runs, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s not about personal gain. It’s about winning games of cricket and being part of something really special with your team-mates. By contributing runs, hopefully that will bring all that stuff along.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo