Stokes striving for atonement with England and focusing on Test career | England cricket team

The outpouring of grief at the untimely death of Shane Warne has perhaps contained a partial lament at the passing of a golden age of Test cricket. At a time when career options for players are myriad and the shortest format is so lucrative, its primacy continues to be challenged. Yet the lure still remains for many.

Just ask Ben Stokes, who after weighing up another unforgiving schedule this year has shouldered arms to the Indian Premier League – and a likely seven-figure pay day, going by the all-rounder’s previous value – to focus on his Test career and the vice-captaincy of an ailing England team.

There is an element of atonement at play here also. Stokes departed Australia after this winter’s 4-0 Ashes defeat frustrated by his inability to rediscover the magic of 2019 and is now seeking to reassert himself during the three-match series against West Indies that begins at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Tuesday.

“I had a chance to have a good look at things going forward and when it came down to it, the real thing that got me excited out of all three formats was Test cricket,” said Stokes, after England’s drawn four-day warm-up match against a CWI President’s XI at the Coolidge Cricket Ground on Friday.

“That was a big decision to come out of the IPL, to make sure that I was able to give everything I possibly could to this Test team. There’s a massive summer ahead, a lot of cricket to play and you just have to look at the schedules at times and think what’s the most important thing – and Test cricket is the most important for me.

“Looking back on Australia, we’ve had some honest reflections not only as a team but individuals as well. I personally felt I let the team down with more than just performances: I would have liked to have been in better physical shape.

“When I look back on it I felt I let myself down but the thing that really grinds me the most and hurts me the most is that I let a lot of other people down and I never want to feel that way again. Everyone’s taken some good hard lessons from Australia.”

The numbers for Stokes in Australia were not pretty, as he made 236 runs from 10 innings with the bat and claimed four wickets at 71 with the ball. But though he refused to make the excuse himself, they also followed a four-month break for injury and mental health reasons that left England praying superhero theory might prevail.

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes wants England’s experienced players to take on extra responsibility during the Test series. Photograph: Darren England/AAP/PA

Much has changed since, with a cull of both management and playing staff – most notably the contentious decision to drop Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – leaving precious little experience in a touring party that, however much they play it down, desperately needs a positive outcome in the Caribbean to right the listing captaincy of Joe Root.

Stokes said: “It’s not all on the captain. Joe is 100% the man to lead this team forward and I’ll be right behind him every step of the way. There’s obviously been a big change with Stuart and Jimmy but with all due respect to them – and I mean this in the nicest way possible – they’re not here and what we can concentrate on are the guys who are and the opportunity they now have.

“We have made a real effort to make sure that from the top, the most experienced guy, Joe, to the guys who haven’t even played yet, we are valued just as much as each other. When it comes to guys who are about to make their debut or haven’t played much, there is that extra responsibility on the senior guys to help them through that.

“I don’t see it as a negative whatsoever. The only thing for us now is positive, because there were a lot of negatives in Australia and it was a shit place to be.”

For all the recent talk of a “reset”, it may be that only one new cap is handed out this week. Durham’s Alex Lees is certain to open, but the leg-spin of Matt Parkinson went unused in the warm-up and the seamers Matt Fisher and Saqib Mahmood were used fleetingly (and only then after Ollie Robinson’s battle with back spasms re-emerged).

But as has been the case for some time, the readiness of Stokes the bowler is key. Sending down five feisty overs on Friday was mildly encouraging for a player who finished the Ashes as a specialist batter after a side strain but Root and Paul Collingwood, the interim head coach, still face a tricky selection call.

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Robinson appears unlikely to feature – England were burned by his self-assessment on fitness in Hobart – leaving a likely first-choice attack of Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Mark Wood and Jack Leach. Yet Wood is light on overs after a stomach bug that has sapped his energy, while the spin of Leach has not previously been trusted as one of four.

There is much to ponder in the next three days, not least a pitch that three years ago was prepared to be a volatile seamer’s paradise and helped the four-pronged West Indies pace attack complete a series win with a match to spare. Stokes may have slimmed down his own schedule and pay packet but his burden in the Test side remains a heavy one.

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