Cricket Comment: Confident Stokes can relight England’s fire

Andy Lloyd
ENGLAND may go into today’s first Test against India reeling from a first home series defeat to Sri Lanka but I strongly fancy them to come out on top in the next five matches.

The climate could dictate whether we get a result at Trent Bridge, but if either team wins then it’ll be England, and I’d go as far as to predict that India won’t win a match in the whole series.

India boast some terrific one-day cricketers but they are not as strong in Test matches, and especially not away from home, where they haven’t won a series for three years.

In the heat and on the low-bouncing tracks of the subcontinent their batsmen are proficient, and scores of 600 aren’t unusual, but – greats such as Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid aside – they can struggle in England and Australia.

England lack a spinner, but in home conditions seamers win matches and ours are very high-class. They bowled Sri Lanka out, only for the batsmen to fail, and the question is whether they can get enough runs. You’d like to think the India attack isn’t the best.

It goes without saying that captain Alastair Cook is under huge pressure to score runs. A first century for 14 months would take an awful lot of stress out of his life, but he doesn’t need a hundred. A score of 60 or 70 would be an improvement. What he needs is to spend two or three hours at the crease, improve his footwork and rediscover his rhythm. Centuries will follow.

If Cook doesn’t do it then Ian Bell, England’s best current batsman, Joe Root and Gary Ballance, who are both playing well, and Moeen Ali, who must be on cloud nine after his display at Headingley, are all capable.

The man who could restore some much-needed swagger, however, is Ben Stokes, who is back in the squad after proving his fitness and will surely come into the side. The Durham all-rounder is young, ambitious, supremely talented and brimming with the kind of confidence that Cook must wish he could bottle and ingest.

I’m a huge fan because Stokes is a match-winner – and he’s arriving just when England need someone to kick-start their summer.

Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also served as captain and chairman of Warwickshire.