Australians know all about the game-changing qualities Ben Stokes possesses – Headingley 2019 remains a raw memory – yet the late inclusion of the destructive all-rounder in England’s Ashes squad has been welcomed on the other side of the world.
Stokes on Monday confirmed what had been suspected for a couple of weeks: he has recovered from a finger injury and, after a break from the game during which he also prioritised his mental health, declared himself “ready for Australia”.
Those three words should be enough to strike fear into Australian hearts with the Ashes urn going on the line from 8 December, when the first Test begins in Brisbane.
But the addition of Stokes has been celebrated by several former Australian Test players, who see his inclusion not only as a major boost for England’s chances and a more competitive series, but also as a boon in the entertainment stakes.
“This is great news for the Ashes and will give Root and his England team a huge boost as Stokes has the rare ability to inspire his teammates on the pitch in the heat of battle,” Shane Warne tweeted. “Let’s hope every ground is packed and enjoy the Ashes contest.”
Former Test wicketkeeper Brad Haddin was excited about what Stokes could potentially bring to the series, given his quality with both bat and ball – and his status as something of a pantomime villain among Australian fans.
“And now the theatre begins,” Haddin said on Fox Cricket on Monday night. “This is what you want, you want the best players playing in the Ashes series.
“The one thing Ben Stokes does, not just with his presence on the field with bat and ball, but he makes guys around him better players. That’s what I’m excited about. This England team now will grow a leg.”
With Stokes on the plane to Australia, the dynamic of the series has changed: without him – along with the absence of Joffra Archer – fears had been raised that England may struggle to stay competitive on Australian soil; with him now in the touring party, their chances of success are seen to have dramatically increased.
“Any side with that quality all-rounder in will be a lot better chance to beat Australia,” former Australia quick Brett Lee told World Cup Live. “He’s a genuine fast bowler … Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson are the two front-line bowlers. Now Ben Stokes can bowl some decent gas too, so it’s fantastic.”
Stokes was initially left out of the England squad announced earlier this month after he announced he was taking an indefinite break from the game, but the door was left open to him by head coach Chris Silverwood.
He has not played competitive cricket since July and a lack of match fitness may preclude him from playing the entire series, but his return to the squad was “huge”, according to former England captain Michael Vaughan.
“Crucially, he is also a player Australia fear,” Vaughan wrote in his Telegraph column. “The scars he inflicted on them at Headingley two years ago will not have fully healed, and the sight of him walking out at Brisbane – or wherever he manages to play his first Test – will send a few shivers up local spines.”
Stokes is one of the few players in the England squad to have enjoyed success with the bat on Australian soil – he scored a century in Perth in 2013 – and three of his seven highest Test scores have come against Australia, including his famous unbeaten 135 that drove a dagger through Australian hearts during the third Test of the 2019 series in Leeds.