Saturday, August 6, 2022

England’s struggling T20 side need a ‘free kick’ from Ben Stokes to inspire them ahead of the World Cup

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England are now, at best, third favorites for the T20 title and few rate them that highly, even with Stokes in the squad

The all-rounder may have retired from one-day cricket but will be back in the Twenty20 squad for the World Cup after his first summer as a Test captain.

England’s dismal summer at home has seen them slip from contender to underdog at the T20 World Cup in Australia in the autumn. But Ben Stokes could change all that.

If England needs one thing in white ball cricket right now it is inspirational leaders following the retirement of former captain Eoin Morgan in June.

No one is more inspirational than Stokes, without whom England would not have dragged themselves across the line against New Zealand in the 2019 50-over World Cup final at Lord’s.

Stokes’ Midas touch has also revived England’s ailing Test fortunes, with the 31-year-old’s alliance with new manager Brendon McCullum resulting in the team winning four straight games in thrilling fashion earlier this summer.

Given where the T20 team currently stands after Sunday’s crushing 90-round loss to South Africa in Southampton that sealed a third straight defeat, it will take a miracle to make them realistic contenders for the World Cup make.

Luckily for England, Stokes is a man who deals in miracles and that means there is likely to be a ‘Bazball’ jump within the T20 setup once Stokes joins ahead of the tournament in Australia, most likely towards the back end of the tournament Teams seven-match series in Pakistan, which begins mid-next month.

Stoke’s international T20 record is mediocre. He has never scored 50 goals for England and averages 37.73 with the ball.

But in a squad lacking in faith and yet to settle under new captain Jos Buttler and manager Matthew Mott, Stokes’ injection cannot be underestimated.

At the end of a limited summer that saw England fail to win a home series for the first time in nine years, Mott admitted Stokes’ presence in that T20 team will be game changer at the World Cup. “He’ll add a lot,” Mott said. “When you add players like Stokes to a team, the selection becomes a lot easier. With your team’s balance, you basically always have a free shot. Having a world-class bowler finish in the top four is a huge asset to any team. So bringing him back will have a very different perspective on how we can put our team together.”

The squad composition for the World Cup could differ greatly from last month’s losing streak against India and South Africa. Out-of-form opener Jason Roy was notified by Mott as the Australian admitted: “Nobody has a mortgage on one spot.” Dawid Malan’s place could also be in jeopardy after Mott admitted Phil Salt and Harry Brook, two exciting young thugs waiting in the wings would likely get a chance to make their claims during the series in Pakistan. “Sometimes tough decisions have to be made,” Mott said. “Young players bring energy. And they both chew it all up for a game.”

Fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Mark Wood’s chances of being fit for the World Cup look slim, with Mott admitting: “It will be a challenge for Jofra. Wood is probably closer. We would like to have both types at the moment. But it’s not in our hands. Whatever we take to this World Cup, it has to be good enough.”

It means the presence of Stokes, a man who brings out the best in everyone around him, will be even more crucial.

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