Ben Stokes urges ‘fearless’ England to be role models as Azeem Rafiq scandal casts shadow over Test

When England beat India 4-0 in a four match series 11 years ago they went to No 1 in the world rankings. Andrew Strauss’s team were an efficient winning machine but not entertainers, apart from when Kevin Pietersen fancied it.

Anderson and Stuart Broad embraced the “bowling dry” approach, restricting scoring and waiting for the opposition to make mistakes. It is not how this team works. But the main difference is that England had a world-class spinner in Graeme Swann, capable of taking wickets in the first innings. England do not have that so they need the seamers to hunt for wickets by taking the risk-reward approach.

Stokes returns to Headingley for the first time since his 2019 heroics having missed last year’s win over India because he was having a break for mental health reasons. How this ground badly needs another thrilling game to bring some joy to a besieged club.

Yorkshire officials have been totally anonymous at Headingley this week as they prepare to put on a Test match they had taken away when the Azeem Rafiq scandal broke last year, a move that threatened them with financial ruin. Day one is not fully sold out, but Friday and Saturday will be full houses and credit to Yorkshire for juniors pricing at £10.

It was with tone-deaf timing last week that the England & Wales Cricket Board released the news of its charges against unnamed individuals in the Yorkshire case the morning after England’s stunning win in front of a full house on day five after fans scrambled to snap up free tickets. It lowered the mood around English cricket to arctic temperatures and showed the disconnect between the corporate arm of the ECB and the Test team.

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There is never a good time to release bad news, but just waiting another day or so would have given England the chance to bask in the glory which they deserved after 18 months of misery. Now the game is relying on this team again to lift the sport and Stokes recognizes the responsibility the players have to make sure they are entertainers.

“We’ve got a responsibility with what we do out on the field to attract people, but we also know we are role models off the field as well. All we can do is go out there and perform to our abilities, hopefully we can attract a new fanbase with what we do out there,” he said.

“What we have managed to do over the past two weeks is pretty special. There’s a reason why we had a full house on day five at Trent Bridge. I feel like people want to come and watch the brand of cricket we’re playing. My challenge to the lads this week is to go and do it again.”

Kane Williamson returns for New Zealand after missing the second Test with Covid as one of three possible changes. Neil Wagner is in line to come in for the injured Kyle Jamieson while left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel is in contention too.

Third Test teams

England: Lees, Crawley, Pope, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Foakes, J Overton, Potts, Leach, Broad.

New Zealand (likely): Young, Latham, Williamson, Conway, Nicholls, Mitchell, Blundell, Henry, Wagner, Patel, Boult.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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