Ben Stokes loomed large at Headingley on Wednesday both on the big screen, where highlights of his miracle demolition of Australia three years ago were being shown, and on the outfield as he promised more of the same against New Zealand in Thursday’s third Test.
After victory at Lord’s Stokes wanted England to be ‘even more positive than positive’ and now after an epic win at Trent Bridge he has told them to think of themselves as entertainers rather than sportsmen. The mind boggles as to what England will do next.
How extraordinary to think that the 2019 Leeds game – ‘it was nice to see the highlights being played when we got here,’ said Stokes – was almost eclipsed by what this new England team did against New Zealand last week. How intriguing it will be, too, to discover where this journey will lead over the coming months and years.
Ben Stokes loomed large at Headingley on Wednesday on the big screen and on the outfield
Stokes wants England to be ‘even more fearless and aggressive’ than at Trent Bridge
For now all sights are on what would be a remarkable 3-0 clean-sweep of the world Test champions and any suggestion of bowlers being rested for next week’s encounter with India were dispelled when England named their strongest possible side. Gone, clearly, is the rotation policy that got them into such a pickle under Joe Root and Chris Silverwood.
That side will not include Jimmy Anderson, who has a ‘puffy ankle’ but is expected to be fit to face Virat Kohli and company at Edgbaston.
But it does include a captain who will clearly not let a trifling illness stop him from leading this suddenly transformed England side.
‘I was just ill,’ said Stokes when asked what had kept him away from practice on Tuesday. ‘But I’ve had two negative Covid tests and that’s why I’m standing here now.’
England have named their strongest possible XI for Headingley but James Anderson is out with a ‘puffy ankle’
The England captain, who bemoaned his absence from the team barbecue put on by Jonny Bairstow on Tuesday night, was far happier talking about the all-out attacking philosophy instilled almost overnight by himself and new coach Brendon McCullum.
‘I’ve said to the players, ”Let’s try to think like we’re in the entertainment business rather than the sporting one”.
‘You saw on the last day at Trent Bridge (when England chased 299 in 50 overs to win) what we want to do. We just wanted to chase the runs down without thinking about the overs.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw someone do something similar here to what Jonny did last week.’
Jonny Bairstow showed the all-out attacking philosophy instilled by Stokes and Brendon McCullum
‘There’s a reason why nearly 20,000 came to Trent Bridge to watch us on the last day,’ said Stokes. ‘So I’ve set a challenge to the team to be even more fearless, positive and aggressive than last week. If we keep doing good things on the field we will attract a new pool of fans to the game. That’s all we can do, it’s what we’re good at.’
Anything similar to the miracle of 2019, the Trent Bridge classic or even the original miracle of Headingley in 1981 would be a welcome antidote to the Yorkshire racism scandal that has cast a giant shadow over this famous old ground this week and almost led to this final Test being taken elsewhere.
The ongoing crisis cannot be forgotten but England can at least put it to one side for Yorkshire spectators while they carry on with their mission to ‘save’ Test cricket.
England took the attacking option in their replacement for Anderson on Wednesday when they preferred the rapid, aggressive and sometimes wayward Jamie Overton for his Test debut ahead of his more reliable but not nearly as exciting twin Craig.
Anything similar to the miracle of 2019 would be a welcome antidote to the Yorkshire racism scandal
Overton earns his call-up, at 28, on the back of his outstanding form for Surrey this season that has seen him take 21 Championship wickets at 21 apiece and forced two of his old Somerset colleagues to retire hurt with his fiery bouncers at Taunton last week – Josh Davey and his twin, who he firstly pole-axed and then welcomed back to the crease with another rapid bouncer.
‘Jamie was part of the group we had with us at the Ageas Bowl in 2020 and I remember asking him to bowl fast and short at our batters,’ said Stokes.
‘He did it for six overs and was very impressive. He’s definitely got the attitude and attributes to become an international bowler and there’s no better time to show the world what he’s got.’
It has not always been an easy ride for the younger Overton twin by three minutes since he first appeared in the England set-up without playing seven years ago. Even after his move from Somerset to Surrey to enhance his international ambitions he missed the bulk of last season with injury and was left out at the start of this one.
England have selected the rapid, aggressive and sometimes wayward Jamie Overton
But he has worked on a shorter run-up with Surrey bowling coach Azhar Mahmood and made it clear he wanted to usurp his sibling, who enjoyed the best of his eight Test appearances against India here last year, when the pair spoke to the media on Tuesday.
Overton will provide the extra pace missing through the absence of the injured Jofra Archer and Mark Wood and will be given a specific role with the old ball by Stokes, with Stuart Broad and Matt Potts taking the new one.
They will come up against a New Zealand side strengthened by the return of their captain Kane Williamson after Covid yet still trying to work out what hit them in Nottingham.
New Zealand will be strengthened by the return of their captain Kane Williamson after Covid
‘I watched most of the last Test on TV,’ said Williamson. ‘It wasn’t as if I had much else to do in isolation. No, I didn’t shout at the TV. You just have to applaud what England have come in with.’
Now Williamson will attempt to stop England winning three Tests in a row for the first time since they were in Sri Lanka in 2018 but they will have to do it at a ground where Stokes returns in Test cricket for the first time since his Ashes spectacular.
‘It’s always a great place to play as an England cricketer,’ added Stokes. ‘Is that the Western Terrace?’ he said pointing to the famous Leeds party enclosure. ‘It’s a good stand.’
It will be a lively one, too, if England deliver on their promise to keep all guns blazing.