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News

Ben Stokes: England's win-or-bust mentality is opening game up to new fans

Captain says random encounter during spa break reinforced faith in team's tactics

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
27-Jun-2023
Ben Stokes says that a random encounter with a non-cricket fan during a spa break between Tests has brought home to him just how important and engaging this Ashes series is proving to be, and has vowed to continue to push for victory at all costs in this week's second Test at Lord's.
Australia's thrilling two-wicket win at Edgbaston in the series opener had left Stokes admitting to being "emotionally beat up" after the contest, a statement that seemed at odds with his previous insistence that England under his leadership are not a "results-driven team".
And, with only one side in Ashes history having previously come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 - Don Bradman's team in 1936-37 - the Lord's Test might ordinarily feel like a match that England dare not lose.
Stokes, however, insisted that he and his players are utterly unfazed by the prospect of bouncing back to square the series 1-1, and said that the public's enthusiastic response to the team's "Bazball" tactics will only embolden him for the rest of the campaign.
"I think Baz has now just come to terms that it's a thing now," Stokes said at Lord's, acknowledging that the Bazball buzzword is here to stay, despite his coach's previous protestations.
"We got a nice little break, and there's been lots of people come up to me and saying how enthralled they were with last week," he added, after a trip to Seaham Hall in Durham, where he is an ambassador. "They obviously wanted us to win but they just loved every minute of it.
"I had a conversation in a men's changing-room at a spa about the game, which was a bit awkward. He said, 'are you the cricketer or do you just look like him?' and I was like 'it is me'.
"He just said that 'I went down to the pub after work and I don't even follow cricket, but I was just going to go down for a quick few' and he ended up having a few more, and just said he was just transfixed on the game.
"So when you hear stuff like that, it obviously makes you feel good about what we're doing as bringing a new fanbase to the game, and it's reaching people that it might never have reached before, so that's what we're about."
The onus on opening the game up to a wider audience feels all the more important following the overnight publication of the long-awaited ICEC report into the sport's structural inequalities.
Stokes opened his press conference with a pre-prepared statement on the matter, and later added: "We're all about growing the game and just making it bigger than what it is right now, and I think we've managed to achieve that quite well."
England's plans for the Lord's Test suffered a pair of set-backs on Tuesday morning, with Moeen Ali deemed unfit for selection after his finger injury at Edgbaston, and Mark Wood omitted in favour of Josh Tongue, with Stokes admitting that Wood needed longer to be ready to play a full part in the third Test at Headingley.
However, Stokes insisted that the selection issues had done nothing to dent the overriding feeling of optimism within the squad, adding that Zak Crawley had addressed the team huddle on Monday with an "unbelievable speech" that referenced an ancient Chinese story about a farmer, his horse, a broken leg and an invading army.
"It was basically about 'we'll see', one thing happens and might not mean it's the end of the end of the world," Stokes said. "You don't know why things happen, if it's for a good reason or not, it's just one of those things to deal with. The team we've picked, I'm very confident we can walk away from here with a win. Rather than worry about things that I don't have, I'd rather be confident in the things I do have.
"I don't want to get misheard when I say we aren't a results-driven team," Stokes added. "As I said last week, losing sucks. We always want to win every game we play, but if we don't come away with the win at the end, then let's move onto the next game and let's keep going."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket