MELBOURNE (AFP): Australia coach Justin Langer admitted Saturday he still has “nightmares” about Ben Stokes’ exploits at Headingley in 2019, but said he was happy to see him back after a break from cricket.
While Australia retained the Ashes urn two years ago, the highlight of the series was the England all-rounder’s heroics in their one-wicket win in the third Test at Leeds.
With just one wicket remaining and 73 runs needed for victory, Stokes steered England to their highest successful run chase in Tests with a memorable unbeaten 135.
“He’s a great cricketer, no doubt about that. I still have nightmares about his innings in that third Test,” Langer said in Brisbane ahead of the first Test at the Gabba starting Wednesday.
“I probably have more nightmares about his spell on day three of that game. He’s an unbelievable athlete and a great competitor.”
Stokes took an indefinite break from cricket in July to focus on his mental health and recover from two operations on a fractured left index finger.
It was unclear initially whether he would travel to Australia, but he was on the plane in a massive boost to England’s hopes of reclaiming the Ashes.
“It’s great for the game of cricket that Ben Stokes is playing Ashes cricket, and we all love it,” said Langer.
“It’s an Australian summer and it probably wouldn’t be the same without the best players playing.”
“It’s nice to see and hopefully his health is good. We welcome him here because he is one of the superstars of the game,” he added.
Rain has hampered England’s preparations for the opening Test, but they did see some action on Friday with Stokes scoring 42 runs off 56 balls before retiring in an intra-squad practice match.
Paine could make cricketing return
Tim Paine could return to cricket despite being “shattered” by a sexting scandal that saw him quit as Test skipper and step away from the sport, Justin Langer said.
Langer made a surprise trip from the team camp in Brisbane to Hobart during the week to see Paine, who turns 37 on Wednesday, calling him “a really close friend” and “one of the best people I’ve met in the game of cricket”.
“He’s been our captain for a long time, he and I have been through a journey, so it was nice to go down and see him,” Langer said in Brisbane, speaking for the first time since the scandal blew up two weeks ago.
“You’ll have to ask him how he’s going, but when I saw him he’s obviously shattered with what’s happened because he has been an exemplary figure in Australian cricket, for the last four years particularly. And his life changed.”
Paine’s playing future is unclear after he took an indefinite break, but Langer suggested he could be back, while lamenting the “heavy price” paid by the Tasmanian.
“He loves cricket. I think he’s 37 and he is as fit as any athlete certainly in our squad, and we have some fit athletes,” he said.
“He looks after himself so well, he’s really focused, so who knows. His number one priority at the moment is his family as you can imagine, and that’s how it should be.
“I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of him, but we’ll wait and see. That’s his decision.”
In the wake of the controversy, Pat Cummins was appointed as the first fast bowler to lead Australia since 1956.
England are expected to exploit his captaincy inexperience when the opening Test gets under way on Wednesday in Brisbane, but Langer said he wasn’t worried, with deputy and former captain Steve Smith on hand to guide him.
“I think the role of Steve Smith will become very important on the field… David Warner has as good a cricket brain as anyone in the game, and Alex Carey’s been a captain before and he’s now behind the stumps,” he said.
“He’s got his best mates there (Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc), they’ll all have their view on it so I think he will be fine strategically.
“It will just be maintaining the balance with his bowling role, captaining and all the other commitments that come with it. But he’s has got massive upside, Pat Cummins, as a leader and captain of Australian cricket.”