NASSER HUSSAIN: It is great 'England's heartbeat' Ben Stokes is back

NASSER HUSSAIN: It is GREAT news that Ben Stokes is back… He’s England’s heartbeat and captain Joe Root will be delighted that his talisman feels ready to join Ashes tour

  • England star Ben Stokes has returned from a three-month hiatus from the sport 
  • The talismanic all-rounder, 30, was taking a break to manage his mental health
  • Stokes was also resting a broken finger which is now on the mend again
  • News of his comeback in time for the Ashes series is a serious boost for England 

This is great news for Joe Root, the England team and all cricket supporters who want to see the best take on the best in Australia this winter. But, more importantly, it is great news for Ben Stokes.

It means his finger is on the mend and it is also a really good sign that he is in a healthy place mentally because we know the last few months have been a battle for him.

The hints have been there. The moment Ben posted a picture of himself holding a bat I thought, ‘OK, he’s not doing that because he’s thinking of Durham in April. He must have something else in mind’. As he said himself, he is ready for Australia.

It is great news that Ben Stokes is back in the England squad ahead of the winter Ashes series 

Captain Joe Root (left) will be delighted that the talismanic all-rounder is back in contention

The only surprise is that Stokes will be there from the start. I thought he would join the team at some point but it is an unexpected bonus that he will be at the Gabba.

Stokes is absolutely vital to the England team. His addition to the Ashes squad will give everyone a lift. It is not just his immense contribution with bat, ball and in the field but his sheer presence.

He is the heartbeat of that side and suddenly England’s hopes of succeeding in the series have improved dramatically. Stokes is the ultimate team man and the England players will be thrilled to have him back.

This is the hardest tour of them all and Root will be so much stronger for having his vice-captain alongside him. It is Stokes and Jos Buttler who Root leans on most in his decision-making and those three set the tone for the team in all they do.

Big characters are needed in Australia more than anywhere. You need players who stand up to the Aussies, who can look them in the eye and not take a backward step in a hostile environment. 

When you have lost nine out of your last 10 Tests in Australia, as England have, they need their biggest character on this tour more than ever.

Australia will need no reminding what Stokes can do, that’s for sure. He made a century against them in Perth when he was first emerging — and the hard Australia pitches should suit his game again now.

But most significantly, he gave us the greatest day many of us have ever spent at a cricket ground with that miracle of Headingley two years ago.

The World Cup final earlier that summer was extraordinary and Stokes played a huge part in that. But it was a team thing. What he did later that golden summer in the Ashes was the greatest individual display I have ever seen to win a Test match.

Jack Leach (left) will be pleased; having Stokes as a fifth bowler makes his inclusion more likely

Broken fingers heal but it is harder to assess mental health and England must make sure they look after Stokes more than ever when they get to Australia.

Now he is leaving with the team on November 4 he will go straight into quarantine — albeit not a strict one — and back into another bubble. It is back into a hotel room too and England will have to monitor his situation throughout. They will do so — they have been very strong on pastoral care throughout the pandemic.

The other person who will likely have an enormous smile on his face at this news is Jack Leach because without Stokes it is so hard for England to balance the side and include a spinner.

England will hope Stokes can inspire them at the Ashes again as he did at Headingley in 2019

They would have gone with six batters, a keeper at seven and four bowlers and I don’t think one of them would have been a spinner in the bulk of the Tests. 

Now, Stokes can bat at six and be the fifth bowler with Buttler at seven and then four more bowlers. It doesn’t mean Leach will always play because sometimes England have gone with five seamers but it has to increase his chances.

The hope now is that Stokes is refreshed and ready to go because the last few years of extreme ups and downs had clearly taken their toll on him. And the whole of cricket will be the better for his return. 

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