LONDON: England captain Ben Stokes expects to play a full part with the ball and bat as his side begin their Ashes preparations in earnest on Thursday with a four-day Test against Ireland.
The state of Stokes’ knee has raised doubts about his ability to perform the all-rounder role and it flared up in the drawn Test series in New Zealand in February.
Stokes managed to bowl only nine overs in the two Tests against the Kiwis but fully intends to be part of England’s attack at home to Australia.
So all eyes will be on the 31-year-old against Ireland over the next four days at Lord’s.
“My knee is in a much better place than it was in Wellington,” Stokes told reporters at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “I have got myself into a position where I am not able to look back and regret or say I have not given myself the best opportunity to play a full role with the ball this summer.”
Stokes continued to be troubled by niggling injuries while appearing twice for Indian Premier League side Chennai Super Kings this year and managed to bowl only one over for them.
“I have got myself into a place where I feel like I am back at 2019, 2020 with my body. Hopefully I can turn up every day and bowl like I was able to do before this little niggle,” he said.
“We know what the problem is and it’s about managing it with workload and the medical team, just to get through it.”
With James Anderson and Ollie Robinson resting up ahead of the Ashes as they recover from niggles, England will hand a debut to Worcestershire seamer Josh Tongue.
“Having someone who is able to bowl at that extra pace and can come on and change where the game is going, have that X-factor, is great to have in your side,” Stokes said. “I am looking forward to getting him involved.”
Ireland have failed to win any of their previous six Test matches since gaining Test status in 2017, but gave England an almighty scare at Lord’s four years ago when they bowled the hosts out for 85 before lunch on the first day.
However, they were skittled for 38 in their second innings chasing 182 for a famous victory.
Ireland will be without paceman Josh Little who has been rested in preparation for the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe next month — a decision that has raised some eyebrows, especially after Ireland’s high performance director Richard Holdsworth described the Lord’s clash as ‘not a pinnacle event’.
Even so, Ireland will be determined to try and add to their 50-over and T20 triumphs over England.
“It’s a big week for us as a team and an organisation. You don’t get too many chances to play Test matches at Lord’s,” Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie said this week.
“I was fortunate to be here for the last one and obviously we will take it in and soak it up, but at the same time we’re here to do a job and compete with one of the best Test sides in the world. We want to focus on the job in hand.”
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023