Joe Root's England need miracle to regain the Ashes in Australia… but Ben Stokes is capable of it and is our best hope

YOUR mission, should you choose to accept it, is to regain The Ashes on Australian soil for the first time in half a century.

You must do it severely undercooked, without any serious warm-up matches and with the continuation of stifling Covid restrictions.

You must do it without a world-class bowler of express pace or spin, and with possibly the worst England batting line-up in living memory.

And you must do it against a bloke, Steve Smith, who averages more than 100 in his last 15 Ashes innings.

Oh and remember that, in six of their last seven tours Down Under, England have not won a single Test while the urn has been up for grabs.

When The Ashes start at Brisbane’s ‘Gabbatoir’ at midnight tonight, Joe Root’s side face mission impossible.

Which brings us to Ben Stokes, a man who frequently believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

English cricket, mired in a racism crisis and struggling for its place in the national sporting consciousness as never before, needs Stokes.

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Indeed, Test match cricket — believed by many of us to be the ultimate form of any sport — needs Stokes to make a contest of this, with ever-shorter bish-bosh formats threatening to consign it to museum-piece status.

This isn’t fair on Stokes, who has not played competitive cricket since July, having taken a lengthy break from the game to prioritise his mental wellbeing. He cannot logically be expected to have a major impact.

Stokes, though, defies logic and he terrifies Australians.

Captain Root is ranked as the world’s No 1 Test batsman — but Stokes is the one English cricketer who scares the bejesus out of their greatest rivals.

Aussie head coach Justin Langer admits that, more than two years on, he still has nightmares about Stokes’ extraordinary match-winning innings at Headingley in the last Ashes series.

At Leeds in 2019, it is well remembered that Stokes and Jack Leach won England a miraculous one-wicket victory with a 76-run partnership, of which the bespectacled No 11 contributed a famous one not out.

What is often forgotten is that before his thrilling pyrotechnics, Stokes ground out three runs from the first 73 balls of that unbeaten century. And also that, during Australia’s second innings, the all-rounder bowled 15 overs unchanged in pursuit of an apparently-hopeless cause.

Less than two months earlier, Stokes had won a World Cup final for England in a game of ridiculous drama.

He refers to himself as “not a form player” but as a cricketer who knows that, at any moment, “something can just happen for me”.

Stokes was not named in England’s original touring party as he continued his rest from the game.

It would be futile to imagine what Stokes went through during that break, or during the months of Covid bubble life which preceded it.

But something about the prospect of an Ashes tour has compelled him to return.

Perhaps he adheres to the old maxim of spin-bowling legend Jim Laker that “the aim of English cricket is, in fact, mainly to beat Australia”.

Perhaps it is because eight years have passed since Stokes last played Test cricket Down Under and that the 30-year-old might never have another chance.

ECB bosses refused to select Stokes for the Ashes tour of 2017-18 because he was awaiting trial following a fracas outside a Bristol nightclub.

Stokes was effectively treated as guilty until proven innocent — and a jury later cleared him of affray.

It was an unfashionable view, but one expressed in this column, that Stokes ought to have played in that Ashes series.

He was considered a bad ‘role model’ by people who seem to believe sportsmen should parent their kids for them.

In the summer of 2019, it turned out that Stokes is the greatest role model English cricket could ever have hoped for.

England lost 4-0 on their last trip to Australia — yet they had genuine opportunities to win the first two Tests, instead lacking the extreme bloody-mindedness and seize-the- moment ethos of Stokes.


In these remarkable circumstances, against such extreme odds, we ought not expect too much from him.

Yet Stokes would not have got on the plane if he did not believe himself capable of something special.

And when Stokes starts believing, impossible is nothing.

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