England captain Ben Stokes admits that honest and frank conversations with bowler Ollie Robinson contributed to the paceman earning a recall to the team for today’s second Test against South Africa.
Robinson has not featured for the national team since the Ashes in January amid a series of setbacks – lower back injury, food poisoning and concerns around his fitness levels – but the 28-year-old impressed for the England Lions against South Africa earlier this month, taking two wickets for 76 runs and lasting 25 overs.
The Kent tailender replaces the impressive Matthew Potts in an otherwise unchanged side, with Robinson’s height expected to be an asset on the lesser bouncing Old Trafford pitch.
“I was very honest with Robbo. I feel that’s something people deserve. Rather than just have a conversation to get through it, I’d rather let him know exactly where I stand,” said Stokes.
“It’s obviously been a very difficult time for Ollie. It wasn’t his form letting him down, it was his body. That’s a very tough thing to deal with.”
That emphasis on honesty looks set to be a theme of England under Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum.
Stokes’s comments on Robinson come days after it emerged that the Test captain remains on anxiety medication following a period of mental health issues that led to him leaving the sport for several months.
In a documentary airing tomorrow, Stokes said: “I never thought I would be on medication to help me for that kind of stuff. I am not embarrassed or ashamed to say it because I needed the help at the time.
“But it’s not done just because I’m back playing. I still speak to the doc – not as regularly – and I’m still taking medication every day. It’s an ongoing process.”
It’s not that the previous regime hid their opinions and their woes, but it seems as if the current group are encouraged to simply speak their mind.
McCullum has publicly backed Zak Crawley despite the opener facing widespread criticism for his recent displays at the crease, while the side have also rallied around the aggressive style of play that they have adopted – dubbed Bazball.
England under Stokes look to be in a position of comfort, are able to express themselves both on and away from the crease; a liberating take on elite international sport.
That said, no matter the aura a team emits, it’s the result on the board that matters most. And this England side will today look to bounce back from their first loss under Stokes and McCullum.
England surrendered the first Test against the Proteas at Lord’s by an innings and 12 runs amid a third-day collapse with the bat.
Bazball unravelled at the home of cricket on the first occasion that Stokes’s team proved unable to swat, bash and wallop their way out of trouble.
It cemented some of the worries raised when the captain and head coach were appointed – that eventually the buzz of replicating quick-fire cricket in Test matches would fade away.
If England start well today and go on to win, it will be testament to them backing their processes. And if one thing is for certain about this set-up, it’s that they’ll continue to back themselves and be honest about where they are.
“The address after the game was, ‘look, lads, you have obviously not performed anywhere near the capabilities we want to and we know we can, but it’s not something that we are going to take backward steps from’,” Stokes added.