Ben Stokes has set the standard for England’s preparations before Thursday’s Test series opener against Pakistan at Lord’s, a match that will be the talismanic all-rounder’s first appearance on home soil since his arrest in Bristol last September.
That was the verdict of Joe Root after his side’s final net session on Wednesday, with the England captain confident Stokes “will give everything” this summer and not be distracted by the impending trial that will see him sit out August’s second Test with India.
The 26-year-old, who pleaded not guilty to affray, returned to international duty on the tour of New Zealand after being made unavailable for the Ashes series defeat and has recently completed a disappointing campaign for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League.
Nevertheless, his return to bowling at full pace during the IPL after historical stress fractures in his back hampered that comeback trip, is a significant boost for the balance of Root’s refurbished team, and on the ground where, last summer, he was named man of the match for a career-best six for 22 against West Indies.
“He is very focused about performing well,” said Root. “He sets the standard in training and lads like having him around – he adds a lot to this team. It’s not something we have over-thought and in terms of that game later in the summer, we’ll see where we are at. You can see he’s buzzing and desperate to get back out there.
“He is a stand-out. If you watch a whole session, he does everything at match intensity and he helps drive it and take people with him. To have his bowling as well will add to our attack and give us a different dimension. That’s really pleasing for me as captain and us as a side.”
While Root confirmed a debut for the 20-year-old spinner Dom Bess – “He is a very confident young man and has a lot of energy, as you would expect – a decision on whether Mark Wood or Chris Woakes is the third seamer will be made in the morning. A green pitch, but one that has spent much of the build-up under cover for fear of being too dry, will be assessed.
Though Pakistan have tailed off since a 2-2 draw here in 2016 saw them rise to No 1 in the world – they currently sit seventh to England’s fifth – a seam attack led by Mohammad Amir will pose problems for an England top order that has Root newly promoted to first drop and the openers, Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman, in search of runs.
On Cook, who will equal Allan Border’s record of 153 consecutive Tests, but has spent the last 12 months offering scant returns between his two giant double centuries, Root said: “I think he is in a good place. Like the rest of the lads, he looks like he has prepared well.
“As far as I’m aware, I can see him playing for another couple of years at least. That is completely his decision. He’s such a big part of our dressing-room. When he scores runs, it correlates with us doing well. So hopefully he can have a really strong summer and that can all go to the back of his mind and we can get the best out of him for the next couple of years.”
Root’s opposite number, Sarfraz Ahmed, will similarly make a late call on his third seamer with Hassan Ali, star of last summer’s Champions Trophy win, and the left-armer Rahat Ali vying for one spot; the Pakistan captain is hoping to exploit any winter hangover among the home side.
Sarfraz said: “If you see England’s last four months, they are not good for them. I think as captain, I see them, at the moment, being less confident so we will try to take advantage.”