Stokes hails England's team spirit as they target Test series victory

Let’s finish with six of the best! Captain Ben Stokes hails special team spirit as rejuvenated England seek to win half-a-dozen Tests in one summer for first time since 2004

  • England face South Africa in Test series decider, starting on Thursday
  • Victory at the Kia Oval would cap England’s best Test summer since 2004 
  • Stokes believes team spirit has been crucial to a run of five victories in six Tests

There was a certain irony in Ben Stokes talking about the huge role team spirit has played in England’s Test transformation on the day Alex Hales returned to the white-ball fold.

Certainly, the England captain’s insistence that the off-field dynamic between a team clearly getting on extremely well has been crucial to a run of five victories in six Tests is at odds with the World Cup call-up of a man exiled for three years over ‘trust issues’.

So, while pragmatism reigns in a white-ball team understandably keen to go for the short-term fix that Hales might bring in Australia in the sudden absence of Jonny Bairstow, Stokes will continue advocating the virtues of Test togetherness.

England captain Ben Stokes hopes that togetherness will bring a triumphant end to a summer

‘It’s very important for groups to be able to spend time away from cricket grounds,’ said Stokes ahead of Thursday’s deciding Test against South Africa in response to a question about England’s players spending time together on the golf course in the 11 day break since the last Test.

‘It gives you that feel to play for each other a bit more. You’re always going to go out and try to do well but if you manage to connect like we have this summer it resonates with what you want to do out there for the team.’

Now Stokes hopes that togetherness will bring a triumphant end to a summer when England, with near evangelical zeal, have re-written the Test playbook and proved it, at a pivotal time, to once again be the best, most entertaining and fulfilling form of the game.

Stokes believes England’s all-out attacking style – ‘even with rain around we won’t be playing for a draw in this game,’ he said – is bringing new supporters to cricket and that is the perfect antidote to ECB gambling the sport’s future on the Hundred and Sir Andrew Strauss planning to reduce the amount of red-ball County Championship cricket.

Stokes takes part in practice on Wednesday ahead of the third Test against South Africa

Victory at the Kia Oval would see England’s best Test summer since Michael Vaughan’s team of 2004 won all seven games and confirm an extraordinary renaissance after a run of just one victory in 17 Tests under Joe Root and Chris Silverwood. 

‘That shows a massive progression over a short space of time and it’s been amazing to be part of,’ said Stokes. ‘The whole nation has enjoyed watching us play because sometimes they don’t know what they’re going to get. It’s always going to be entertaining whether we lose or win so it’s great.

‘I guess when you first come up with something you’re not sure of the response but it’s been amazing how quickly everybody bought in to the way we want to play.’

To claim that decisive victory England will have to overcome the absence of Bairstow, ruled out in such freak circumstances breaking his ankle during one of those games of golf, but at least they have a replacement richly deserving of an overdue debut in Harry Brook.

Stokes believes team spirit has been crucial to a run of five victories in six Tests

The Yorkshireman plays having averaged in excess of a hundred in the Championship earlier this season and after making 140 against South Africa for the Lions at Canterbury ahead of this series in an innings which featured six sixes.

And while South Africa captain Dean Elgar testily dismissed that knock, when Brook took spinner Keshav Maharaj apart, and said ‘this is Test cricket, he’s in the big league now’ Stokes has no doubts Brook, at 23, is ready for the ultimate elevation.

‘There’s just things that stand out about certain players, like the time they have at the crease and the shots they play, and Harry has shown this summer the skill he has,’ said Stokes before, with a smile, assessing Brook’s personality in the dressing room.

‘He’s chilled, keeps himself to himself and just does what he does. He’s a bit dumb, if I can say that, but he’s such a good player. I’ve been called dumb a lot so that’s fine!’

Stokes has no doubts batsman Harry Brook (above), at 23, is ready to make the step up

At the other end of the scale Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad play today with no signs of another end of season glorious Oval exit in sight and their absence from last winter’s tour of the West Indies looking more and more inexplicable.

Stokes is delighted with how both have responded to his brave new world and expects them to be around at least until next year’s Ashes. ‘I honestly just can’t see a point where they decide it’s time for them to step away,’ said the captain.

‘Jimmy has come out and said how much fun he’s having and Broady’s influence in the dressing room is the best I’ve seen while playing with him over the years. The conversations he has not only with me but the bowlers and how he wants to help them is something he’s taken to another level. It’s great to see Jimmy at 40 and Broady at 36 having such a new lease of life in the dressing room.’

The only subject Stokes appeared less than enthusiastic about was the return of Hales but he could have vetoed that if he felt strongly enough as there is no way Jos Buttler and Rob Key would have gone against the wishes of their most important player.

But Stokes is putting the Twenty20 team’s interests first by taking a pragmatic view and he deserves as much credit for that as the truly important work he is doing for Test cricket.

Victory at the Kia Oval would cap England’s best Test summer since 2004

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