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Stokes applauds team spirit as England aim to win six tests in one summer for the first time since 2004

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There was a certain irony in Ben Stokes talking about the huge role team spirit played in England’s Test transformation on the day Alex Hales returned to the white-ball fold.

The England captain’s insistence that the off-field dynamics between a team that clearly get along exceptionally well has been crucial to a run of five wins in six tests is at odds with the World Cup call-up from a man who banned for three years. ‘trust problems’.

So, while pragmatism reigns in a whiteball team that is understandably eager for the short-term solution Hales could bring to Australia in the sudden absence of Jonny Bairstow, Stokes will continue to advocate for the virtues of Test togetherness.

England captain Ben Stokes hopes togetherness will bring a triumphant end to a summer

“It is very important for groups to spend time outside the cricket grounds,” Stokes told South Africa ahead of Thursday’s decisive Test in response to a question about England’s players spending time together on the golf course in the 11 -day break since the last test.

‘It gives you that feeling of playing for each other a little more. You always go out there and try to do it right, but if you manage to connect like we did this summer, it resonates with what you want to do for the team there.”

Now Stokes hopes that togetherness will bring a triumphant end to a summer in which England, with almost evangelical fervor, have rewritten the Test script and proved that it was, at a crucial moment, once again the best, most entertaining and satisfying form of the game. .

Stokes believes England’s overall attacking style – ‘even with rain around we won’t be playing for a draw in this match,’ he said – is bringing new supporters to cricket and that is the perfect antidote to the ECB facing the future. of the sport at stake. the Hundred and Sir Andrew Strauss plan to reduce the amount of red ball County Championship cricket.

Stokes takes part in training ahead of the third test against South Africa on Wednesday

Stokes takes part in training ahead of the third test against South Africa on Wednesday

Winning the Kia Oval would mark England’s best summer of testing since Michael Vaughan’s team won all seven games in 2004 and confirm an extraordinary renaissance after a string of just one win in 17 tests under Joe Root and Chris Silverwood.

“That shows tremendous progress in a short period of time and it was great to be a part of that,” said Stokes. “The whole country has enjoyed watching us play because sometimes they don’t know what they’re going to get. It’s always fun whether we lose or win, so it’s great.

“I think when you first come up with something you’re not sure about the reaction, but it’s amazing how quickly everyone agreed to the way we want to play.”

To claim that decisive victory, England will have to overcome Bairstow’s absence, ruled out in such bizarre circumstances that he breaks his ankle during one of those golf games, but at least they have a replacement who richly deserves an overdue debut in Harry Brook.

Stokes believes team spirit has been crucial to a run of five wins in six tests

Stokes believes team spirit has been crucial to a run of five wins in six tests

The Yorkshireman had averaged over a hundred in the championship earlier this season and after making 140 against South Africa for the Lions at Canterbury prior to this series in an innings with six sixes.

And while South African captain Dean Elgar declined that knock willingly, when Brook took spinner Keshav Maharaj apart and said: ‘This is Test cricket, he’s in the big league now’, Stokes has no doubts that Brook, at 23- age, is ready for the ultimate raise .

“There are just things that stand out about certain players, like the time they have on the fold and the shots they play, and Harry has shown this summer what a skill he has,” Stokes said with a smile. Brooks personality in the competition. Dressing room.

 

“He’s cold, keeps to himself and just does what he does. He’s a bit stupid, if I may say so, but he’s such a good player. I’ve often been called stupid, so that’s fine!’

Stokes has no doubts batsman Harry Brook (above), aged 23, is ready to take the step up

Stokes has no doubts batsman Harry Brook (above), aged 23, is ready to take the step up

At the other end of the scale, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are playing today with no signs of another glorious Oval exit at the end of the season and their absence from last winter’s tour of the West Indies seems increasingly inexplicable.

Stokes is delighted with how both have responded to his brave new world and expects them to be there at least until next year’s Ashes. “I honestly don’t see a moment when they decide it’s time to leave,” the captain said.

“Jimmy has come out and said how much fun he is having and Broady’s influence in the dressing room is the best I’ve seen playing with him over the years. The conversations he has, not only with me, but also with the bowlers and how he wants to help them is something that has taken him to another level. It’s great to see Jimmy at 40 and Broady at 36 such a new life in the locker room.”

The only topic Stokes seemed less enthused about was Hales’ return, but he could have vetoed it had he been strong enough, as Jos Buttler and Rob Key would definitely not have gone against their main player’s wishes.

But Stokes puts the interests of the Twenty20 team first by taking a pragmatic view and he deserves as much credit for that as the really important work he does for Test cricket.

Win at the Kia Oval would crown England's best summer of testing since 2004

Winning the Kia Oval would be England’s best summer of testing since 2004

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