England v West Indies: Ruthless Ben Stokes already targeting Ashes triumph Down Under

BEN STOKES has started England’s Ashes countdown, admitting ruthless selection decisions had to be taken to build a side that can win in Australia.

England are still 18 months away from their next tour Down Under but, if there was any doubt about the top priority of Stokes’ captaincy, he removed it on the eve of the summer’s first Test against the West Indies.

Today’s game at Lord’s marks a watershed moment in Stokes’ reign, with 41-year-old James Anderson making a farewell appearance after a record-breaking run of 187 Tests and 700 wickets.

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But that is not the only significant change forced through by a leadership group comprising Stokes, head coach Brendon McCullum and director of cricket Rob Key.

BIG DECISIONS: England's Ben Stokes during a press conference at Lord's on Tuesday as England prepare to take on the West Indies in the first Test on Wednesday. Picture: Steven Paston/PABIG DECISIONS: England's Ben Stokes during a press conference at Lord's on Tuesday as England prepare to take on the West Indies in the first Test on Wednesday. Picture: Steven Paston/PA
BIG DECISIONS: England's Ben Stokes during a press conference at Lord's on Tuesday as England prepare to take on the West Indies in the first Test on Wednesday. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow has been dropped after exactly 100 caps, with wicketkeeper Ben Foakes also overlooked and Jack Leach axed as first-choice spinner.

England are instead taking a calculated gamble on the future. Debutant Jamie Smith takes the gloves having been identified primarily for his batting prowess, fellow newcomer Gus Atkinson gets a chance to audition for a role in the new-look seam attack and Shoaib Bashir replaces Leach, despite being unable to oust him at county level with Somerset.

And Stokes made clear that the revamp has taken place with one main goal in mind: defeating the old enemy for the first time since 2015. “Look at where we’ve got to go in 18 months’ time, to Australia. We want to win that urn back,” he said.

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“We don’t want to be standing still. I want to keep making this team push themselves as hard as they possibly can.

OUSTED: Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow, seen speaking with captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum in Ranchi, India, earlier this year, has been omitted from the squad for the first Test against the West Indies. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty ImagesOUSTED: Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow, seen speaking with captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum in Ranchi, India, earlier this year, has been omitted from the squad for the first Test against the West Indies. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
OUSTED: Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow, seen speaking with captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum in Ranchi, India, earlier this year, has been omitted from the squad for the first Test against the West Indies. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

“I think it’s been five months since we played a Test match – that’s a lot of time to think about how you can take the team forward. I’ve been captain now for two years, so for me it’s about progressing this team.

“I don’t think ‘reboot’ is the right word for what we’ve done, but when you’re in a position where you’ve got to make decisions, it solely comes down to what we think is best for the team. There’ll be some decisions I’m sure people might not understand or might be frustrated by and that’s something that I’m absolutely fine with and completely understand.”