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Ben Stokes requests 'fast, flat wickets' for the Ashes

England captain encouraged by improvement in left knee as he looks to reprise fourth-seamer role this summer

Ben Stokes looks on ahead of the toss, Pakistan vs England, 3rd Test, Karachi, 1st day, December 17, 2022

Stokes calls on groundstaff to help England in pursuit of first Ashes win since 2015  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Ben Stokes has requested "fast, flat" wickets for the Ashes this summer and revealed he has an XI in mind for the first Test at Edgbaston on June 16.
Since taking over as Test captain at the start of last summer, Stokes' team, under the guidance of head coach Brendon McCullum, has adopted a quicker scoring rate that has propelled England to 10 wins out of 12. In that period, their 4.76 runs per over is the highest of the 11 nations to have played Test cricket. The approach and success has created optimism of reclaiming the urn off Australia for the first time since 2015.
Speaking to Sky Sports while out in the IPL, Stokes said he has spoken to curators at the five venues and asked for pitches conducive to England's style of play, even though he accepts this may play into Australia's hands, given they possess a quicker bowling attack.
"We've been very clear, especially with the ground staff around England, about what type of wickets we want," Stokes said. "And they've been very responsive to us which has been good.
"We want fast, flat wickets. We want to go out there and score quickly. It brings their [Australia's] guys in: if they've got fast wickets to bowl on then they'll be happy with that as well."
Stokes also reiterated his desire to have up to eight bowlers to choose from ahead of every match, emphasising his 90mph-plus options in Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Olly Stone.
Wood is currently leading wicket-taker at the IPL with nine dismissals for Lucknow Super Giants, while Stone bowled 30 overs for Nottinghamshire in the opening round of the County Championship. Archer, however, seems to have suffered a setback in the last week.
The 28-year-old has missed two matches for Mumbai Indians after discomfort in his right elbow - the same elbow which kept him out for 18 months with a stress fracture. Mumbai are optimistic he will return for Sunday's fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Stokes expects Archer to play some red-ball cricket before making a return to the squad after a two-year absence. That Wood and Stone are fit and firing does allow Archer breathing room, particularly given his lack of multi-day cricket since 2021. With James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson preparing for their opening round of County Championship cricket this week, England are well-stocked for the time being. The England captain has asked the ECB medical personnel to ensure that remains the case come June and across a schedule of five Ashes Tests in six weeks.
"I think I know what the starting XI is going to be, there or thereabouts," Stokes said. "I think having the option to have someone who can bowl above 90mph is what any captain wants. When it comes to that first Test match, I'll be making sure that I pick the best team for that first game.
"With our bowling group, I've asked the medical team to give us the best opportunity to have eight bowlers to select from for every game. I think this year's Ashes in particular, the games are quite close together. Being able to have those resources available every game is something I'm really keen to have.
"I could pick a 20-man squad (right now) because that's how fortunate we are at the moment to be able to pick from this group of English players who are so good at the moment."
On his own fitness, Stokes believes there has been considerable improvement in his troublesome left knee, buoyed by a "pain-free" over for Chennai Super Kings against Lucknow Super Giants eight days ago. Though the over went for 18, and he missed Saturday's victory over Mumbai Indians, albeit due to an issue with his foot, the allrounder is encouraged by the progress made so far. He has already come a long way since February's tour of New Zealand when Stokes was only able to bowl nine overs across the two-match series.
"I've worked so hard over the last month, five weeks, to get where I am now," he said. "Being able to bowl pain-free - touch wood - has been good. Even (though that over), I went for 18 runs, but I was like 'oh I managed to bowl an over without pain in my knee'. That's down to a lot of hard work I've done - medically, in the gym and obviously had a bit of help with some cortisone injections (before travelling to India)."
By no means a long-term remedy, Stokes has not ruled out further injections during the summer in a bid to fulfill his role as the fourth seamer.
"The main priority for me is making sure that I can fulfil my role as fourth seamer in the Ashes.
"I've had some good conversations with the people who are employed to look after us, body-wise. I said I'll be doing everything I can whilst I'm in India to make sure that when we get to the Ashes, I'll give myself the best opportunity to do my role.
"I'll do whatever I can to get myself through but, medical team, if there's anything you guys can do to help to get me through that, then please do."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo