Chris Silverwood expects Ben Stokes will make his Test return at the Gabba this week and the head coach believes the very presence of England’s Headingley hero from 2019 has lifted hopes of winning back the Ashes from Australia this winter.
Stokes has impressed Silverwood with a typically full-throttle return to training after ending a four-month break from cricket to attend to his mental health and undergo a second operation on his left index finger.
Asked if the all-rounder is now ready to start the series despite a paucity of warm-up cricket, Silverwood replied: “He has definitely not told me any different and, from the noises I’m hearing, I should imagine he’ll be telling me he’s ready.
“I think it is massive, really. We felt a lift when his name came back into the hat for being on tour. We love having him around, not just from this cricket point of view. He is lively around the dressing room and a leader in his own right. People listen to him, he has a lot of things to share. And from a cricketing point of view, we’ve seen how devastating he is with bat and ball at times.”
Justin Langer, the Australia head coach, admitted over the weekend that he still has nightmares about Stokes, both from the unbeaten 135 that pulled off the miracle run chase in Leeds during the drawn series two years ago and the marathon spell with the ball that preceded it. Silverwood made this point too, saying: “Certainly that knock at Headingley did hurt the Australians and will still be hurting for a while to come. They know what he is capable of and they know he can take anybody down.”
For all the hype around Stokes, the length of his lay-off means there are no guarantees of instant results. The 30-year-old’s solitary warm-up innings against the Lions last week did produce a 56-ball 42 before retiring, however, his 10 overs with the ball were reportedly hostile and returned two wickets.
It creates a logjam in the England middle order and Silverwood has a headache choosing between Jonny Bairstow’s experience or the coming man in Ollie Pope. He and Joe Root, the England Test captain, are also taking time to decide the makeup of their bowling attack amid concerns over the readiness of the frontline seamers.
While Australia have already named their XI, Silverwood stressed they are in the same boat on this front, with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood all featuring in the T20 World Cup and since restricted to middle practice.
The T20 global tournament led Silverwood’s late arrival on tour along with England’s multi-format players and was also overshadowed by the racism scandal that erupted at Yorkshire through Azeem Rafiq’s parliamentary evidence. Further allegations at Essex make it two clubs from the head coach’s own career.
Asked if he had witnessed racism during his time at either county, Silverwood replied: “I’m not sure I did. I look back on it and obviously some of the people that are involved were friends of mine and I’ve worked closely with.
“It is something I have reflected on. I would hope that if I had heard it I would have said something. But I know moving forward if I hear anything I will stand up to it.
“It’s sad, isn’t it? Clearly people have been hurt in the past. That hurts us as a cricketing fraternity as well. We have to make this a game for everyone. And I’m not just saying that, I truly believe it.
“If I look at the team that we’ve got here, there’s a lot of people that truly believe that as well. We’ve touched on the [diverse England] white-ball dressing room before.
“How did we learn so much about each other? Well, we took interest. We learned, we asked questions. We genuinely care about each other. That’s the way forward. We’ve got to help that filter through to everywhere really.”