Ben Stokes feared his World Cup was over before it had begun when he heard his hip ‘pop’ in the gym – but plans to remind everyone why England are double world champions when he returns for Saturday’s showdown with South Africa.
Stokes was dubbed his side’s ‘spiritual leader’ by head coach Matthew Mott after he led the dressing-room inquest into the shock defeat by Afghanistan in Delhi.
And while he laughingly agreed with Mark Wood’s insistence that he is ‘not the Messiah’, he intends to put into action the message he gave team-mates as England go in search of the win they need.
‘I know that people do listen when I talk,’ said Stokes. ‘I don’t try and speak too much, but I try and speak when I feel it’s the right time.’
‘You hear me say it a lot: I don’t care if we lose. I want us to go out there and play in the way we talk about. If we’re going to go down, let’s go down doing what we’re known for.
Ben Stokes is ready to return for England in Saturday’s World Cup clash against South Africa
Stokes’ captaincy of the red ball team has seen England’s play-style change drastically
Stokes called for his team to go out and ‘do what we do best’ against South Africa on Saturday
‘Let’s not be timid or restricted. We want to go out and show the opposition who England are.
‘It’s just reminding ourselves what we do best as a group – to always be on top of the opposition, always make the plays, and make them be the reactive team, as opposed to us. We’ve had little signs of it, but not that consistent flow.’
After Mott’s suggestion that his players have mislaid their confidence, and Jonny Bairstow’s assertion that it is as simple as going hell for leather in the powerplay, Stokes’s calm resolve may be just the remedy after two defeats out of three.
Stokes came out of one-day retirement to boost England’s trophy defence, only to tear the fascia in his left hip before their tournament opener against New Zealand.
‘When I did it, I thought I was done, because it’s not good hearing a pop,’ he said. ‘But thankfully it wasn’t anywhere near as a bad as what 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 it wasn’t the worst place for his side to be, and he believes the same applies to England’s one-day side as they look to forge their identity in the post-Eoin Morgan era.
‘Yes, we are a different team, but we can build on that. We’re not trying to hold on to the past. If anything, we’ve got a great stepping stone to be able to go further and further.
‘That’s something that I want this team to be known for. We’re double world champions. We have a good reputation but we’re still trying to build our own under Jos and Motty’s leadership.’
With Jofra Archer finally joining the squad for last night’s training session at the Wankhede Stadium, the class of 2019 are threatening to reform – though there is little chance he will regain full fitness before the World Cup is over.
Stokes, meanwhile, refused to rule out having a crack at the 2027 World Cup, when he will be 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 fixtures after suffering a hip injury in the gym
But, for now, England must work out how to squeeze him in – a task made trickier by Harry Brook’s 66 against Afghanistan.
Even with Stokes now a specialist batsman, an all-rounder is set to make way, with Sam Curran likelier to be dropped than Chris Woakes, who retains the backing of the management. Moeen Ali is also in the mix after missing the last two games.
Then there are the expectations to manage. ‘I’m not the Messiah – I think Woody’s said that,’ said Stokes. ‘I’m one person in a team sport. It doesn’t all of a sudden mean you’re going to win.
‘Everyone who walks on to that field is a match-winner. If two or three of us have a day out, we know we’ll be hard to beat.’