BSS
  10 Jul 2024, 09:13

Stokes eager to 'go at Australia' but focused on West Indies

LONDON, July 10, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - England captain Ben Stokes is adamant his long-term goal of regaining the Ashes in Australia will have no ill-effects as he leads his side into a home Test series against the West Indies starting Wednesday.

This week's series opener at Lord's is set to bring down the curtain on England great James Anderson's time in international cricket, with the 41-year-old paceman's 188th and final Test marking the end of a record-breaking career spanning two decades.

No fast bowler has taken more than Anderson's 700 Test wickets and only India batting hero Sachin Tendulkar has played more matches (200) at this level.

But with the 2025/26 Ashes series in Australia on the horizon, England believe now is the right time to jettison Anderson.

Not since England's 2010/11 triumph, have either they or arch-rivals Australia won an Ashes series away from home, with the battle for the urn still the yardstick by which many England captains are judged.

Previous England teams have been accused of obsessing about the Ashes to the exclusion of all else and it is a trap Stokes is keen to avoid ahead of a three-match series against the West Indies.

"We're not focusing on that over what we need to do here," Stokes told reporters at Lord's on Tuesday.

"We've got a lot of Test cricket to play before Australia. But we had to make some decisions around what we think is best for the team going into that series."

England, following a 4-1 series loss in India earlier this year, have dropped both Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes, with debutant Jamie Smith set to keep wicket at Lord's, while Shoaib Bashir has been chosen as their spinner ahead of his more experienced Somerset team-mate Jack Leach.

"I'm not going to lie. I want us to be able to take a squad out there that I know is going to go at Australia," said Stokes, 33.

"I'll be nearly four years as captain when we go out there, I want to know we've done everything right over this 18-month period to go out there with a strong enough squad to not just compete with Australia but to beat them.

"It's probably the first time you've heard me speak like that about something so far away. It goes back to progression as a side. I want this team to progress over the 18 months, so I'm focusing on that because I want to go to Australia and win the Ashes back."

Stokes, meanwhile, is confident he can once again be a fully-fledged all-rounder following knee surgery in November to treat an injury that had stopped him from operating as a lively pace bowler.

"I've got myself into a position where I can finally say after a long time that I can play the role I've sort of been known for, which is batting and being that fourth seamer," he said.

 

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