LONDON (Agencies): Captain Ben Stokes says the only way he will not take a full part in England’s Ashes summer is if he “can’t walk”.
The 31-year-old had a cortisone injection in a persistent knee injury in March, before playing only two games for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. Stokes will lead England in the one-off Test against Ireland on Thursday.
“I’ve given myself the best possible chance to play a big role, especially with the ball,” he told BBC Sport. Stokes did not bowl in England’s last Test, a defeat by New Zealand in Wellington in February. His time with Chennai was disrupted by a foot injury, after which he was left out of the side, but the all-rounder said he used his time in India to improve his chances of playing a full part with the ball for England.
“The knee is in a much better place than what it was in Wellington,” he said. “I’ve worked incredibly hard with the medical team in Chennai, who were liaising with the England guys. “I’ve got myself into a place where I feel like I’m back at a 2019, 2020 space in terms of my body. “I know I won’t look back on this summer and regret any decisions that I had in the build-up period, because I’ve worked my nuts off.
“Unless I can’t walk, I’ll be on the field.”
England will hand a debut to Worcestershire pace bowler Josh Tongue in the four-day Test against the Irish. Bowlers James Anderson and Ollie Robinson have been left out as they recover from minor injuries, but Stokes said both would have been able to play had this been the first Ashes Test. Tongue, 25, has been chosen ahead of Chris Woakes to join Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts in the pace attack.
“We know Woakesy is a very experienced player and what he will offer this team when he plays,” said Stokes. “We see this as a great opportunity to see someone like Josh Tongue go out and play in a Test. We might need someone like him throughout the summer.
“It gives me an opportunity to see what his character is like and what he is like to operate with as a captain. Woakesy completed understood that.” The five-Test Ashes series begins on 16 June, with England looking to regain the urn from Australia for the first time in five years. Under Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, England have won 10 of their past 12 Tests in thrilling fashion.
Now, the prospect of England taking their swashbuckling style to the Australians is creating the prospect of the most eagerly anticipated Ashes series since the epic contest of 2005.
Stokes, though, does not believe that this summer will “define” his captaincy. “That would make it feel like once the Ashes is over, that’s it, but it’s not it for me as a captain or the end of what this team is about to do,” he added.
“This Ashes is about the journey that we’ve been on and will continue to be on. It’s not going to be the end of me as a captain, me as a player or this team and the way we’re trying to progress the game.”
Stokes also dismissed any suggestion that England’s aggressive method will have to be tempered against the high-quality Australian attack.
“That’s the English mentality of turning something negative straight away,” he said. “Every team we’ve played against, it’s been said ‘it will be a big challenge to play against that team in this way’.
“This is the way we have found ourselves playing our best cricket. Every team we come up against is a challenge, but I find myself answering the same question against different opposition.”
This will be Ireland’s second Test at Lord’s – in 2019 they bowled England out for 85 before themselves succumbing for only 38 in a 143-run loss.
Since then they have played only three Tests – all this year. They are still looking for their first ever Test win after six successive defeats.
Left-arm pace bowler Josh Little is not part of the Ireland squad after playing in the IPL final for Gujarat Titans on Monday. Little is being rested with the qualifying tournament for the 50-over World Cup beginning on 18 June in Zimbabwe. “Our focus is to put in our best possible performance,” said Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie.
“As a Test team, this is a pinnacle event for us. We’re not sure when our next Test is, so we have to enjoy this. “I have to support what’s best for Josh. Of course I want him in my team, he’s a brilliant bowler. I understand he has to rest up and focus on getting ready for the World Cup qualifier.”