Matthew Mott says Ben Stokes ‘spoke really well’ after shock England loss

England’s head coach Matthew Mott has revealed how the side’s “spiritual leader” Ben Stokes stepped in to rally the dressing room after their shock World Cup defeat by Afghanistan.

Stokes, who came out of one-day retirement to help defend the trophy he did more than anyone to win in 2019, has yet to feature in India after suffering a hip injury on the the eve of the tournament.

But Sunday’s upset in Delhi, where a side whose only previous win on this stage was a narrow one against Scotland eight years ago, led Stokes to address his team-mates during a dressing room debrief.

Matthew Mott
Matthew Mott hopes to have Stokes available on Saturday (Nick Potts/PA)

Test captain Stokes is on track to return in Saturday’s must-win clash against South Africa at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, but has already made his presence felt behind the scenes.

“He’s like the spiritual leader of the group in many ways and he certainly spoke really well after the game the other day,” said Mott.

“He spoke about that need to really assert ourselves, which he’s renowned for. I said ‘I’ve got this’ and just spoke, talked about the plan going forward for the next few days, and then Stokesy came in on the back of that.

“He really reinforced what was a great message, particularly for someone who’s sitting on the bench and has a bit of a different lens on things. I think it went down well, it brought us back to controlling what we can control, really.”

Mott’s own attempt at diagnosing England’s problems saw him suggest that the defending champions were suffering from a lack of self-belief.

Having become the most swaggering side on the planet during their reinvention from also-rans to world champions under Eoin Morgan, England looked uncharacteristically tentative in their losses to New Zealand and Afghanistan.

“You don’t lose your ability overnight but you can lose your confidence,” he said.

“It’s that confidence… puff your chest out, go out there and really take the game on, which this team has been renowned for over a long period of time.

“On reflection we’ve been the reactive team in those two games, so we need to turn that round really quickly.

“That was one of Stokesy’s biggest points – we’re normally the team that dictates terms and gets the other team unsettled, disrupted and for whatever reason we haven’t been able to do that.

“We’ve always been on the back foot, trying to pull things back. What we need to do is dominate those first 15 overs whether we bat first or bowl first in the next game.”

Brendon McCullum, Mott’s red-ball counterpart and joint architect of England’s ‘Bazball’ approach in the Test arena, made an unexpected appearance at the team’s Mumbai hotel on Tuesday after arriving on business.

Chris Woakes (left) or Sam Curran could make way for the returning Stokes
Chris Woakes (left) or Sam Curran could make way for the returning Stokes (Gareth Copley/PA)

McCullum memorably said on his appointment last year that he was not interested in the limited-overs job on account of it being too simple in contrast to reviving the Test team, a position Mott suggested may no longer stand.

“I just saw him down in the foyer and he said exactly the opposite!” he joked.

“I said, ‘do you want to do a little swap?’ We had a good chat and good catch up.”

Stokes’ likely return – which is all but certain provided he pulls up well after a thorough workout on Thursday – means Mott must grapple with a thorny selection issue.

Harry Brook has been keeping his spot warm and would ordinarily be expected to drop out, but his fluent 66 was easily England’s best innings against the Afghans and made a strong case for his retention.

Experienced seamer Chris Woakes and all-rounder Sam Curran are both vulnerable after struggling badly for form thus far, but with Stokes currently unavailable to bowl that only muddies the waters.

“It’s still up for debate. We’ll have some really good, robust conversations over the next 24 hours,” Mott said.

“I think we’re going to sit down as a selection group, get the numbers, get some theories out there. We’ll normally get to two or three XIs and then debate it, so all things are on the table at the moment.”

David Willey and Gus Atkinson are waiting if England do decide to cut Woakes after three poor outings in a row, but Mott is not ready to draw an emphatic line under the long-time leader of the attack.

“Over the history of Woakes’ career, he’s come out on top a lot more than he’s missed out,” he said.

“He hasn’t been at his best, and he’s the first to admit it, but he’s got a few credits in the bank.”