Ben Stokes says England have ‘massively evolved’ during India tour

By Sports Desk March 05, 2024

Ben Stokes contends England have “massively evolved” since last summer’s Ashes and dismissed the notion that losing in India represents a step backwards under his leadership.

England have troubled India but Stokes is facing up to his first series defeat as captain, with Rohit Sharma’s side holding a 3-1 lead heading into the final Test, starting on Thursday in Dharamsala.

Past England teams might have already let their thoughts drift towards the flight home after a long tour but Stokes was adamant this iteration are hungry to finish the series on a positive note.

Indeed, one of the major differences he sees in his side since their last assignment – a 2-2 draw against Australia – is their readiness to do what is necessary to get into the team and keep the spot.

“The individuals and the team have massively evolved on this tour,” he said. “Progression doesn’t always show itself with the results. It doesn’t mean that we’ve gone backwards.

“I think the way in which everyone committed to becoming a better version of themselves from when we last played was quite obvious; everyone’s fitter, everyone was – I don’t want to say more desire – but it was just a really different feel around how we operated from the summer before.

“When you know that you’re part of something special, you want to work your nuts off to keep your place in the team.

“We’ve been on so many India tours, you know what it’s like when you get to an end of a long one that sometimes you start thinking about the end of the game, whereas honestly, I don’t think that anyone is thinking like that because every opportunity we feel at the moment is special to play for England.”

Before training at the picturesque HPCA Stadium on Wednesday, some England players are set to travel around 10km north and visit the Dalai Lama at his home in McLeod Ganj, although Stokes is unlikely to be among the contingent.

He will instead contemplate changes to his line-up and whether to include an extra seamer in the cooler mountain conditions, with James Anderson and Ollie Robinson fit after minor thigh and back troubles.

Stokes, though, insisted the XI would not be predicated on him returning to bowling for the first time since last July and doing so following left knee surgery last November would merely be a “bonus”.

Shoaib Bashir had a cut on his spinning finger tended to at Tuesday’s practice after a mammoth 70-over stint in Ranchi. This type of injury is common for spinners who experience an increase in workload, as evidenced by Moeen Ali’s struggles with the same issue last summer, but Stokes played down any worries.

“He’s probably bowled more in the last two months than he has ever,” Stokes said. “He was fine, he was just starting to feel it but I don’t think there’s any concern there.

“I put that down to him probably bowling more balls here in two months than he has for however long he’s been playing cricket for to be honest.”

Jonny Bairstow keeps his spot in the side despite a quiet series with the bat and will play his 100th Test, a dozen years on from his debut at Lord’s against the West Indies.

“I’m super excited for him and he’s been quite chipper the last couple of days,” Stokes said.

“I’ve been there for a lot of his career. Age-group cricket, I played against him and with him. Obviously we went on to play loads of cricket for England together.

“He’s one of England’s finest all-format batters, he’s done some unbelievable things with the red ball and the white ball.”

Asked about his white-ball intentions this year, Stokes confirmed he would be available for selection for the T20 World Cup in June after inspiring England to glory in the 2022 final in Australia.

“I’ve not even thought about that but I’m available,” he added. “Whether or not I’m in the plans for that is a different thing. But I still want to be part of that team going forward.”

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