Chris Silverwood summoned up the spirit of Headingley miracles past on Sunday as he prepared to throw Ben Stokes back into the cauldron of an Ashes battle.
England have much to ponder in the make-up of their side for Tuesday night’s first Test and will not follow the example set by new Australia captain Pat Cummins on Sunday in declaring his hand by naming his side for the Gabba.
But coach Silverwood made it clear England’s talisman will return for the first time since July to take the fight to an Australian side who he insists are ‘still hurting’ from Stokes’ super-human efforts in defeating the old enemy almost single-handedly at Leeds in 2019.
‘It’s massive to have him back,’ said Silverwood when confirming Stokes is ‘in a good place’ after his absence to repair his broken left index finger and protect his mental wellbeing.
‘We were all given a lift as soon as his name was thrown back into the hat to be on this tour because we love having him around.
‘Not just for his cricket but as a person too. He’s lively around the dressing room, is a leader and people listen to him. We know how devastating he can be with bat and ball and that innings at Headingley will still be hurting Australia.
‘It will hurt them for some time yet. They’ll be wary of him as a cricketer this time as well. They know what he can do, they know what he’s capable of and they’ll know he can take anybody down on his day.’
How England will desperately need a fit and firing Stokes if they are going to take Australia down again over the next six weeks and win an away Ashes for the first time since the stunning 3-1 success 10 years ago.
They will go into the opening Test at the ‘Gabbatoir’ as perhaps the most under-prepared England side of all time, but while there is Stokes alongside his great friend and fellow world-class cricketer Joe Root in Brisbane, there is hope.
‘You know what he’s like,’ continued Silverwood, warming to his Stokes theme. ‘Ben is a superstar, isn’t he? He has come back in and worked hard.
‘He’s focused on what he’s doing and just watching him you can see him methodically going through in his head what he is trying to work on with the bat for the first game.
‘From a physical point of view he would have had fewer overs than most but he’s running in and bowling with good pace and he got quite a bit out of the wicket in the practice match. He’s bowling fast, hitting the seam and getting the ball to move off the straight.
‘We’re aware he’s just coming back but from a readiness point of view he looks good to me. He’s in a good place.’
The rather strange Covid-affected build-up to the biggest battle in Test cricket continued yesterday with a chaotic series launch at the Gabba attended only by media based in Queensland because of Australia’s continuing hardline virus policy.
But Cummins, an impressive new Australia captain in place of the hapless Tim Paine, threw down the gauntlet by naming his team three days out, with Travis Head preferred to Usman Khawaja in the middle order and Mitchell Starc keeping his place despite the best efforts of Shane Warne to talk him out of the side.
Cummins also said he would not take the new ball, instead leaving it to Starc and Josh Hazlewood, and would field at mid-off as he gets used to the unique situation of being a fast bowling international captain.
Silverwood, though, refused to pick up Cummins’ gauntlet. ‘It’s not my job to make decisions for them but if they feel confident enough that they can do that right now then good on them,’ he said. ‘We’ll be keeping our options open as we always do. If Australia are in a position to name their side then great.’
England want to see whether the green Gabba strip left under-prepared by the bad weather that has hit Brisbane will improve should the elements allow two more days of sunshine on the surface.
But it would not be a surprise if they left out their spinner Jack Leach and their express pace bowler Mark Wood, who on Sunday told the home media England would be repeating the ‘bowling dry’ policy of trying to starve Australia of runs that worked so well for the great Strauss side.
England could go for an all-seam attack, limiting Stokes to short sharp bursts as fifth bowler, and keep their fingers crossed that conditions, with storms still forecast for at least the first two days, are more like Trent Bridge than Brisbane.
But the one certainty is that Stokes will be part of that attack — and England can dare to dream of a big upset as long as he is there.Internet Explorer Channel Network