Stokes plays down fitness fears after not batting or bowling against Ireland
Ben Stokes played down fears over his fitness before the Ashes after England wrapped up victory over Ireland by 10 wickets inside three days without him batting or bowling at Lord’s.
Stokes declared with England on 524 for four on day two to ensure he was not required with the bat and after struggling with his left knee since it flared up during the New Zealand series in February, he did not bowl on the first day or day three of this one-off Test either.
England’s captain had not made any contribution to the scorecard until he caught Curtis Campher off Joe Root during Saturday’s morning session, but the grimace on his face and subsequent hobble to join his team-mates in celebration sent alarm bells ringing ahead of the Ashes opener on June 16.
But Stokes revealed: “I bowled this morning (in the nets) for the first time in four weeks and I felt really good. I was real happy with how I bowled.
“I bowled for about 20 minutes and I got through that really well. Obviously I have got time to build up before I push back into flat out but I just landed quite awkwardly when I took that catch.
“I didn’t quite see it so had to adjust myself and landed on my left leg. It twisted in a really strange way but it was fine, I just don’t know what really happened.
“It was one of those things, but I am 32 tomorrow so that probably explains it.
“Matty Potts sent me a screenshot this morning saying I was on track from 1931 to be the first captain not to score a run, take a wicket or take a catch and that was my team talk this morning.
“Unfortunately one came straight to me. It is another record we’re looking to break!”
While Stokes was in a jovial mood after England clinched a 10-wicket victory over Ireland with a day to spare, it had been a frustrating first two sessions on day three.
Harry Tector (51) and Lorcan Tucker (44) combined to help Ireland add 118 runs for the loss of only three wickets before lunch and the run rate increased to ensure the tourists eventually impressively avoided an innings defeat.
Tail-enders Mark Adair and Andy McBrine joined forces to produce a record 163-run partnership for Ireland in Test cricket but the duo could not pass three figures.
Adair was bounced out for 88 and McBrine left stranded unbeaten on 86 when Graham Hume was bowled to leave Ireland on 362 for nine but with opener James McCollum unable to bat following his twisted ankle on Friday.
“No, we won the game so, yeah, never hard to be disappointed with winning a game,” Stokes insisted when quizzed on if Ireland’s fightback took the shine off an 11th victory in 13 Tests since Brendon McCullum took over.
“The game could have ended up finishing a lot earlier than what it did but they showed some really good grit and determination so fair play to them.”
Nevertheless, Josh Tongue’s five-wicket haul on debut helped England start the Ashes summer with an emphatic victory and saw his name go up on the Lord’s honours board.
Stokes added: “The first time I actually met Tonguey was the start of this week when we got together so he must think I am a pretty good bloke giving him his Test debut!
“He was very unlucky in the first innings not to get a wicket but he definitely reaped the rewards and the way he bowled contributed to the five wickets he got in this innings because they were already on the back foot against him, knowing he had that extra bit of pace.
“He can bowl 90mph full and short so he was one step ahead in the second innings because of the way he bowled in the first innings.”
Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie was proud of his team’s fight on day three and revealed how close injured opener McCollum came to walking out after tea before Hume’s dismissal left McBrine still 14 runs away from his century.
“James had the pads on, he padded up and had the boot on, so it was all a bit chaotic in there,” Balbirnie explained.
“Andy actually came in at tea and said he didn’t want James to bat because they are good mates and he was a bit sore.
“He really didn’t want him to hobble out in the boot. Eventually it was agreed if Andy was one hit away, he would go out and just hold up an end. It was chaos.”