England v Pakistan – Why Ben Stokes didn’t hesitate to take captain’s armband against Pakistan
Stokes underwent surgery in April after fracturing his left index finger at the India Premier League and was originally left out of the three-match Royal London Series as England favoured a cautious approach to his comeback.
Limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan explained Stokes’s absence on Sunday by saying “the last thing we want to do is rush somebody back” but new plans were being drawn up on the run less than 24 hours later when it became clear there was a Covid-19 outbreak in camp.
With three players and four staff members testing positive, and the rest of the group joining them in 10 days of mandated isolation, a brand new playing group was being put together and there was only one man Chris Silverwood wanted to take over from Morgan as captain.
“It was the last call I was expecting, late in the evening. It was short and sharp,” recalled Stokes, who was pulled from Durham’s County Championship fixture against Warwickshire.
“Spoons (Silverwood) straight up asked me the question ‘can you come and do it?’ I was like ‘yeah’.
“After the call happened my wife sent me a screen shot of an article saying ‘England aren’t going to rush Ben Stokes back’. I tried to make light of the situation ... it’s one of these situations that’s an example of ‘if you don’t laugh you’ll cry’.
“But it was like when I came back for Durham a bit early. My job needed me to do something, so I had to stand up and do that, same with this.
“This is earlier than planned from a medical and fitness point of view but when a job comes and calls you, you need to stand up and make yourself available.”
Stokes, of course, was not the only one to a get a surprise invitation to head for Sophia Gardens. Seventeen others were summoned at short notice – nine of them uncapped at ODI level and several others ending lengthy hiatus’ from the international stage.
Their first job on arrival was to pass a PCR test – all of which came back negative on Wednesday afternoon – and team meetings were held via conference call.
It will be no slight on them if they appear a disjointed unit, they have never played together as a group before and are unlikely to do so again, but Stokes wants them to discharge their duties with both pride and enjoyment.
“Although this has been a very quick turnaround of events in having to pick a new squad, it doesn’t matter what names are on the back of an England shirt: we are walking out there as the No 1 team,” he said.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for guys either on the fringes previously or who’ve been called up for the first time.
“I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself or the guys who will be playing because it is exceptional circumstances so we will just get through it. I want everyone to have a good time.”
Stokes has played with or against all of his new team-mates at some level, going back as far as sharing an England Under-19 dressing room with Gloucestershire’s David Payne, but there is one player he knows better than most.
He has long advocated for county colleague Brydon Carse, an aggressive seamer who has been edging ever closer to senior selection for a couple of years, and now has the chance to let him loose at the highest level.
“I’ve known Brydon from the academy days and he’s come on over the past few years,” said Stokes. “I’ve been back for four or five weeks at Durham and he’s a seriously-impressive cricketer. He’s know for his bowling but he is a genuinely good batsman as well.”
“He’s got pace, that X factor every team wishes they have and I see him in a similar role to the one Liam Plunkett had in the England team for a number of years.”
That endorsement is as good a reason as any to believe Carse will make the cut on Thursday and whoever joins him in an experimental XI will have the same instructions from Stokes: “Don’t change anything, because what you normally do is what has got you here in the first place.”