Ashes 2015: Ben Stokes shrugs off star billing

Ben Stokes bowls in the nets ahead of the second Ashes Test which starts at Lord's today. Picture: Getty
Ben Stokes bowls in the nets ahead of the second Ashes Test which starts at Lord's today. Picture: Getty
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Ben Stokes may be comfortable with his billing as this summer’s 
Andrew Flintoff as he sets his sights on another victory over Australia, but he’s also determined to be his own man.

There was already a sense of payback for Stokes, when England won the first Ashes Test at Cardiff on Saturday, for the 5-0 whitewash defeat in which he made his debut two winters ago.

His maiden century back then, in Perth, was the only significant consolation as England were outplayed at every turn.

As they bid to wrest back the urn, in this tenth anniversary summer since Flintoff inspired Michael Vaughan’s team to beat Australia for the first time in a generation, Stokes has his captain, Alastair Cook, to thank for comparisons with the star of yesteryear.

He is happy enough with the mantle, but said: “I’m Ben Stokes; I’m not Flintoff, or [Ian] Botham.

“Being an all-rounder, you’re probably going to get compared to the Bothams and the Flintoffs – as I have done recently. I’m not looking to emulate them. I’m just going to go about my cricket in the way I want to do it.”

As Stokes prepares for the second Test at Lord’s – where he made the hallowed turf’s 
all-time fastest Test century against New Zealand two months ago – he is at ease with raised expectations. “People can say it is extra pressure, but I do not find there is any extra on me,” he said.

“I am just going to go out there and try to perform. If I don’t, then there will be someone else knocking on the door trying to take my place.”

Looking ahead to Lord’s, Stokes says England will press on with their new management brief to attack whenever possible. “We know we’re going to win more than we lose if we keep playing in this manner,” he said.

“I think it probably brings the best out of all of us in the 
playing XI – always trying to take the positive route and 
always trying to be on top. If we can carry that on into this game, then we hope we should get the same result.”

England will make a late call on Moeen Ali’s fitness, but Cook 
expects the all-rounder to be ready. Moeen played a key role in the series’ opening success at Cardiff, hitting a brisk 77 in the first innings and picking up five wickets in the match.

But he felt some soreness in his side after the four-day win, raising concerns over a possible relapse of the injury that sidelined him earlier this year.

England handed Moeen a reduced training schedule on Tuesday, but Cook played down the issue after the Worcestershire man took a more active role in the eve-of-match net session.

“He felt his side a tiny bit after the last game and, with his previous history, the medical team were wrapping him in cotton wool,” he said.

Meanwhile, Brett Lee has called into question Australia’s decision to drop Shane Watson for the second Test.

Reports in Australia claim Watson, 34, will be replaced by Mitchell Marsh for the Lord’s clash. The all-rounder, who has played 59 Tests for Australia, scored only 30 and 19 in the opening Test at Cardiff.

“I have been a really good team-mate with Watto and a personal friend, too,” said Lee, who played 76 Tests for Australia.

“From a cricket point of view, I love when Shane Watson is in the team as he brings a really good balance. He has got close to 60 Test matches of experience, which is a lot of cricket, so in a tough time when Australia might be under the pump, those pressures and that experience and confidence can shine through.

“If they weren’t happy with his form I would have loved to see them allow him to play this Test at Lord’s and say ‘look, if this is your last game, your head is on the line, go out and play with that freedom.’”

Australia will also be without Brad Haddin for the second match of the series after he was forced to withdraw for personal reasons.

The experienced wicketkeeper, who dropped Joe Root on nought in the first innings in Cardiff before the Yorkshireman went on to make 134, will be 
replaced by Peter Nevill.

Nevill, 29, has not made an appearance for Australia in any format of the game.

“They have lost a lot in Brad Haddin – it is really sad for the Australian cricket team, but the family comes first,” said Lee.