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Ben Stokes wants 'blank canvas' not 'reset' as England begin new Test era

New captain hopes team will feel 'ten feet tall' as he and McCullum take on leadership roles

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Ben Stokes addresses the media  •  PA Images/Getty

Ben Stokes addresses the media  •  PA Images/Getty

Ben Stokes, England's new Test captain, insists the first LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand at Lord's is a "blank canvas" for his team, rather than the start of the much-vaunted "red-ball reset", and hopes that his partnership with head coach, Brendon McCullum, will allow the players to feel they are "ten feet tall" when they walk out of the pavilion on Thursday morning.
In a sign of their determination for clarity in their new era, England confirmed their final XI 24 hours in advance of the match - with recalls for James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and a debut for Stokes' Durham team-mate Matthew Potts, who has been the outstanding English quick on the county circuit this summer with 35 wickets at 18.57 to date.
Overall, however, there is a sense of continuity to England's first team of the summer, with seven survivors from their ten-wicket loss to West Indies in March, not to mention the 1177-wickets' worth of new-ball experience back at the team's disposal. However, despite a recent record of one Test win in 17 outings, Stokes is adamant that the players should not feel encumbered by what has gone before.
"I just want everyone to feel free under my captaincy," Stokes said, having taken over from Joe Root last month. "Obviously there has been talk around the word 'reset', which is something I don't particularly like. I just see this as a complete and utter blank canvas for this Test team going forward.
"We have got so much experience in that dressing room, with myself, Joe, Broady, Jimmy, Jonny [Bairstow], and at the other end we've younger lads with inexperience, but this is our time. We are going to dictate how things go, going forward. There is nothing on this blank canvas. Everyone is starting fresh now, whether you are Matt Potts or Stuart Broad or Jimmy Anderson."
The sense of new beginnings chimes with Broad's insistence that he will treat his return to the side as a second debut after the hurt of missing out in the Caribbean. But for Potts - England cap No. 704 - that feeling will be all too real, and Stokes has no doubt that he will live up to the occasion.
"Obviously he's a Durham lad - there's no bias there," Stokes said. "I've got to know him over the years at Durham, and he has been outstanding in the games I have played, and even before that - he has been the guy that Scott Borthwick [their captain] has turned to to take the wickets."
In a summer already marked by high scores all around the county circuit, Potts' wickets tally - which includes four hauls of six wickets or more, and a best of 7 for 40 against Glamorgan - is especially notable, and Stokes was full of praise for the tenacity he had shown even when the conditions have not been in his favour.
"County cricket has not been all plain sailing for the bowlers [this season], like it has been over the last few years," he said. "You've really had to work for your wickets and he's managed to create things out of nowhere.
"One thing that really made my mind up about Potts getting this opportunity was when he bowled us to victory against Glamorgan," Stokes added. "He turned up on day four with a bit of a stiff side - and someone in his situation, with Test selection coming round the corner, he could have just sat back and said 'no, I am going to just look after myself here'.
"But he didn't, he ran in and he won the game for Durham. That's the attitude that sets you at the next level, and really makes you open your eyes that this kid is ready. He's been phenomenal - he's an athlete and everything I expect this team to be going forward."
Despite the magnitude of the occasion, Stokes insists he will feel no extra nerves when he dons his England blazer and walks out for the toss for the first time as the official Test captain, having stood in once before against West Indies in 2020.
"It is a new responsibility but I will just be going out there, trying to do the same thing as I have in my 80 [79] games that I have played already, which is to try and win games for England.
"I just have a bit more to think about now. I am excited, but I don't see this as any hinder on what I bring to the team, as a few people have suggested I might. It is going to be a very proud moment, but it is what it is."
Either way, he knows he can count on the support of his friend and predecessor, Root, who is back in the ranks for the first time since 2016 having led England a record 64 times.
"He says he is always going to be there, offering support and stuff like that, but he also said he doesn't want to feel like he's getting in the way," Stokes said. "He just wants to let me be me, and I said the same to him: 'Mate, just concentrate on your batting now, you don't have all the extra responsibility on your shoulders. Don't feel like you have to come to me, just concentrate on getting your runs, and I will come to you when I need some advice.'
"I backed Joe in that five years he did, and I know full well I will have his backing, even though he has decided to step away from the captaincy role."
For the time being, Stokes' primary sounding board will be his leadership sidekick, McCullum, whom the squad have been getting to know in person over the past few days following his arrival from the IPL last week. And the first impressions, Stokes said, were pretty consistent with what he had been led to expect of their new alliance.
"He has pretty much done everything like he explained, the way he coaches," Stokes said. "He hasn't thrown one ball yet, he has lived up to that, but he has been good. He is all about making everyone feel, in his words, 'ten feet tall', and I think it is pretty obvious in the way he will speak in the dressing room, because of the way he played cricket and when he was in charge of New Zealand. It's been a good few days working with him."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket