MANCHESTER: England captain Ben Stokes said he hoped the feelgood factor surrounding his side would endure regardless of the outcome of this season’s Ashes, even though he was “devastated” by the decision not to hold any Tests in the north of the country when Australia next tour in 2027.
Since Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum took charge of the Test side last year, the emphasis has been as much on entertainment as results, although England have won 12 out of 16 matches while becoming renowned for their aggressive ‘Bazball’ style.
They head into Wednesday’s fourth Test against arch-rivals Australia at Old Trafford with renewed hope of regaining the Ashes after a dramatic three-wicket win at Headingley left Stokes’s men 2-1 down with two to play.
Even if England don’t become just the second team, after the Australia side of 1936/37, to win an Ashes from 2-0 down, all-rounder Stokes hopes new fans will still retain their enthusiasm.
“I hope this craze around cricket doesn’t get lost if things don’t go our way in this Ashes,” Stokes told reporters at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
England have recalled James Anderson, their all-time leading Test wicket-taker, on the 40-year-old paceman’s Lancashire home ground.
Yet even though one of the ends is now named after him, Anderson has still to take five wickets in a Test innings at Old Trafford.
“Is he not on there yet?,” said Stokes, standing in front of Old Trafford’s honors board. “I’ve got to say, I’m amazed at that.
“It would be good if he was able to do that, it would be nice to get his name up...He’s been an incredible gift to English cricket.”
But there will be no chance for any such heroics at Old Trafford in 2027, nor at Headingley. Officials recently announced that the two northern strongholds had been left of the list of venues for that season’s men’s Ashes even though they each have a long history of staging Anglo-Australian matches.
Old Trafford and Headingley, the Leeds headquarters of Yorkshire, are also home to some of English cricket’s most passionate fans.
It was no surprise that England revived their hopes in this Ashes in front of the faithful at Headingley, a ground where Ian Botham started to turn the tide of the 1981 series and Stokes himself struck a remarkable century in a stunning one-wicket win in 2019.
But in 2027 the most northerly venue for the men’s Ashes will be Trent Bridge, the Nottingham base of Midlands county Nottinghamshire.
Stokes, who made his name at northeast county Durham, said: “You know the crowds we get in the north — and I say ‘the North’ quite bluntly there — are very good. We get a lot of support...So yeah, I’m a bit devastated that there won’t be any Ashes cricket here in 2027 in the north. It’s a shame.
“I don’t make those calls but, if I was involved, I would have said ‘please keep at least one game in the north’.”