London, Dec 5 Former England captain Alastair Cook reckons all-rounder Ben Stokes will enjoy playing in Australia with both bat and ball during the upcoming Ashes as the speed and bounce of the pitch will suit him well. At the same time, Cook conceded that his match readiness, physically as well as mentally is something which is not known.
Stokes is making a comeback into cricket after taking an indefinite break from the game on July 30 to take care of his mental well-being as well as healing from a left index finger injury. He was a late addition to the Ashes touring party and is now in contention to play the first Test at The Gabba on December 8.
“He should enjoy batting and bowling in Australia because the speed and bounce of the pitches will suit him on both fronts. If I were in the Aussie camp plotting his downfall, I am not sure I would have any great insight because he has no obvious weakness. Like any left-hander, he is liable to nicking off so their fast bowlers must be on and around his off stump. Nathan Lyon might be brought on to test him early on because he is a brilliant bowler against left-handers,” wrote Cook in his column for The Sunday Times.
“The big unknown is how match-ready physically and mentally he is after so long out. I don’t have the inside track on the circumstances which forced him to take indefinite leave in the summer. But I do know how the good times (the attention that followed his match-winning performances in the World Cup final and Headingley) as much as the bad times (bubble life, his father passing away, the finger injury) can catch up with you and be as mentally draining,” added Cook, who was a member of England winning 2010/11 Ashes in Australia.
Cook believes that Stokes has made a lot of improvement as a batter since his debut in the 2013/14 Ashes in Australia. On that tour, Stokes had made 279 runs in four matches at an average of 34.87, including a 120 at Perth. “I said that he is a batsman first and, therefore, I expect him to come in at No 5. He is a much better batsman now than he was eight years ago, the previous time he played in Australia. That Ben Stokes was always looking for an opportunity to score, to assert himself over the bowler and to put pressure back on the opposition. He still has that competitive desire but he has married it to a greater match awareness.”
The 36-year-old remarked that Stokes could be the fourth pace option for the Ashes but pointed out that he excels in bowling longer spells, giving examples from past matches. “This is the thing about Ben as a bowler: he likes long spells, he gets better the more he bowls. I think back to the ten overs he bowled in the heat in the Colombo Test in November 2018 which yielded three wickets and put his side in control; to the 15 overs he sent down at the end of the second day at Headingley in 2019 to stop Australia getting out of reach when England had been bowled out for 67; and to the spell he produced to wrap up the Cape Town Test in January 2020.”
“He will almost certainly play as the fourth seamer in this series but there will come a point when England will need him to produce similar spells, either in defensive or offensive situations, and you can bet your Aussie dollar that he will relish the opportunity. He does not shirk work. I remember when he came back just after his first finger operation and it was obvious he wasn’t comfortable trying to make the ball swing with a new contortion of his fingers but he ran in without complaint and with little difference in results,” concluded Cook.