Joe Root has complete confidence that Ben Stokes is ready to play Test cricket again this weekend after his former vice-captain told him he is “desperate” to do so.
Root is happy to trust the evidence of his own eyes, and the words of a team-mate he has known almost half his life, after taking Stokes aside to make sure it was right to name him in his team to take on India at Trent Bridge today.
The England captain did that, before adding at his pre-match press conference it was one of his most difficult selection calls yet to make way for Stokes by dropping fellow all-rounder Sam Curran from a winning team.
When Stokes takes the field again for England it will be only four days after he was cleared of affray at Bristol Crown Court.
He had to miss last winter’s Ashes while criminal charges were being considered following a late-night brawl in the Clifton area of Bristol – which will still be subject to a Cricket Discipline Commission hearing over the next month, despite Stokes’ acquittal and clearance to play.
Asked if he has any lingering concerns about the match-winner’s current state of mind, Root said: “No, no doubt.
“I sat him down yesterday, just me and him, and asked him where he was at. He felt he was ready to play.
“He told me he’s desperate to get out there, wants to put in performances and concentrate on his cricket now.”
The Yorkshireman, at 27 an exact contemporary of Stokes’, is backing his instincts about a cricketer he first got to know when they both began making waves in age-group teams a dozen years ago.
“One thing I would say is I have known Ben from really quite young, and I feel very confident that he will be able to go out and put in a strong performance,” he said.
Once Stokes was added to this week’s squad, after swift consultation at England and Wales Cricket Board management level, Root admits the temptation was always strong to bring him straight back into the team.
“That was a decision made above our heads,” he said. “He has been made available for selection – from that point on, it was about ‘is he good enough to play for England?’
“You don’t want to leave someone like Ben out.”
More awkward was identifying who should drop out of a team bidding to wrap up series victory after establishing a 2-0 lead in Stokes’ absence at Lord’s last weekend.
His replacement there, Chris Woakes, put in a man-of-the-match performance – as did 20-year-old Curran, in only his second Test match, the series opener at Edgbaston.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult selections I’ve had to make as captain,” said Root.
“I think some people would see that as the easy option, to leave Sam out. (But) what he’s done so far has been nothing short of high-class ... that’s testament to how well we’ve been playing. He took it extremely well, and very maturely for a young guy who is desperate to play.”
India skipper Virat Kohli has warned his team will play with nothing to lose as they try to stay in the series. Kohli is fit to lead the tourists this weekend after recovering from the back strain which kept him off the field towards the end of their crushing defeat at Lord’s.
India’s batsmen have so far failed to tame English seam-and-swing conditions this summer. But Kohli said: “When your back is against the wall it’s actually a good situation to be in. You literally have no room for thinking about anything else apart from what the team requires.
“The only conversation we’ve had is that the only option is to win this game, and nothing else. You need to show that in your body language, in your intent and the way you prepare for the game.
“It’s up to the individuals to stand up and say ‘I’m going to go out there and make a difference’.”