DURHAM star Ben Stokes has been backed to provide the ‘X-Factor’ for England’s one day side – as skipper Alastair Cook hints at handing a home debut to the explosive all-rounder.
Cockermouth-born Stokes’ late summer arrival on the international scene has come as something as a surprise, not least to the 20-year-old who believed his England aspirations had been damaged when he was ruled out for two months with a hand injury as he was hitting peak form earlier in the season.
But his prodigious talent and big hitting had not gone unnoticed by the ECB, who handed him his debut in the limited overs victory over Ireland in Dublin last week. A steady bow has been built on with some fine form in the nets and eye-catching work in the field which should be enough to earn him a call-up for today’s clash with ailing world champions India.
That it will be played on his home ground, with a sell-out crowd expected at the Emirates Durham ICG and a full day’s play expected, will certainly aid his cause – according to captain Cook.
“All the reports we've had of him – and I haven't seen an awful lot of him because I don't play much county cricket – are that he's a hugely talented kid,” he said.
“And in the nets he looks a fine prospect. He's fitted in really well so he's certainly one to look out for in the future. You do need something special lower down in the order in the one-day game – maybe that is X-Factor, if that's what you want to call it.
“I wouldn't heap all that pressure on Ben Stokes but you do need the ability in the one-day game to hit the ball out of the park and he has that.”
“At some stage Ben will get his chance. We're trying to pick the best side for the conditions and that's always the policy. We'll wait and see until the morning but he's fitted in very well in and around the squad. It might be a factor that he's at his home ground.”
England have a huge opportunity to make a statement against a team that won the World Cup last year but appears to be in something close to disarray following a catastrophic Test series.
Of course Cook will need no reminding that England’s inconsistency in the limited overs form of the game has hurt them in the past, but he feels that they have enough ability and fresh impetus from new arrivals to carry them through against the strongest side in the world over 50 overs.
It is just his second series as skipper, having beaten World Cup runners up Sri Lanka earlier in the summer. Completing back-to-back series victories would be a major feather in his cap. “Favourites is irrelevant. It's what happens on the pitch. If we play well, we can put them under pressure,” he said.
“With the influx of new fresh players who haven't played in the Test series, the energy is there – the desire is there. You need that towards the end of the summer and it's there.
“Having three different captains helps that too. We said at the time it was announced that would help – every time we change format a new captain comes in and he drives his ideas. It's a fresh person talking all the time and that's why I think it works. It helps you maintain that consistency.”
England will be missing virus victim Graeme Swann while Kevin Pieterson has been rested for the India series.