- Ben Stokes is set to return to England for Saturday’s World Cup match
- He is called the ‘spiritual leader’ of his team by head coach Matthew Mott
- All-rounder Sam Curran will make way for Stokes in the South African match
Ben Stokes feared his World Cup was over before it had started when he heard his hip ‘pop’ in the gym – but plans to remind everyone why England are two-time world champions when he returns for Saturday’s clash with South Africa.
Stokes was dubbed his side’s ‘spiritual leader’ by head coach Matthew Mott after leading the dressing room investigation into the shock defeat to Afghanistan in Delhi.
And while he laughingly agreed with Mark Wood’s insistence that he is ‘not the Messiah’, he plans to put the message he gave to his teammates into practice as England look for the win they need .
“I know people listen when I talk,” Stokes said. “I try not to talk too much, but I try to speak when I feel it’s the right time.”
‘You often hear me say: I don’t care if we lose. I want us to go out there and play the way we talk about. If we’re going down, let’s do what we’re known for.
Ben Stokes is set to return for England in Saturday’s World Cup match against South Africa
Stokes’ captaincy of the Red Ball team has seen England’s playing style change dramatically
Stokes called on his team to ‘do what we do best’ against South Africa on Saturday
‘Let us not be timid or limited. We want to go out and show the opposition who England are.
“It just reminds us what we do best as a group: always being on top of the opponent, always making the play and making sure they are the reactive team, unlike us. We’ve seen little sign of it, but not that consistent flow.”
After Mott’s suggestion that his players have betrayed their confidence, and Jonny Bairstow’s claim that it’s as simple as going to hell for leather on the powerplay, Stokes’ calm resolve could be the cure after two of the three defeats.
Stokes came out of a one-day retirement to boost England’s trophy defense but tore the fascia in his left hip before the tournament opener against New Zealand.
“When I did it, I thought I was done because it’s not good to hear a pop,” he said. ‘But luckily it wasn’t nearly as bad as we initially thought. It was nice when we got the results back about 36 hours later.’
Stokes has recent experience of bad starts, when Australia took a 2-0 lead in the Ashes. As Test captain, he said this wasn’t the worst place for his side to be, and he believes the same is true for England’s one-day squad as they try to forge their identity in the post-Eoin Morgan era.
‘Yes, we are a different team, but we can build on that. We try not to cling to the past. In any case, we have a great stepping stone to continue to go further.
“That’s something I want this team to be known for. We are two-time world champions. We have a good reputation, but we are still trying to build our own reputation under the leadership of Jos and Motty.’
With Jofra Archer finally joining the squad for last night’s training at Wankhede Stadium, the class of 2019 is in danger of reforming – although there is little chance he will return to full fitness before the World Cup is over.
Stokes, meanwhile, refused to rule out a success at the 2027 World Cup, when he turns 36.
Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler’s side have lost two of their first three World Cup matches so far
Stokes has missed the first three World Cup matches after suffering a hip injury in the gym
But for now, England must figure out how to get him in – a task made more difficult by Harry Brook’s 66 against Afghanistan.
Even with Stokes being a specialist batsman, an all-rounder will have to make way, with Sam Curran likely to be dropped over Chris Woakes, who retains the backing of management. Moeen Ali is also in the mix after missing the last two matches.
Then there are the expectations that need to be managed. “I’m not the Messiah, I think Woody said that,” Stokes said. ‘I am one person in a team sport. It doesn’t suddenly mean you’re going to win.
‘Everyone who steps onto that field is a match winner. When there are two or three of us out for a day, we know we are hard to beat.”