No regrets for stand-in skipper Ben Stokes as England suffer first-Test defeat
Ben Stokes insists he harbours no regrets after his first outing as England captain, despite sustaining the West Indies sealing a memorable fifth-day victory in the opening #raisethebat Test.
Stokes was leading his country for the first time at the Ageas Bowl this week, with Joe Root temporarily absent due to the arrival of his second child, and did not duck the hard calls.
First he opted to go into the game without the benefit of Stuart Broad’s 138 caps and the 485 wickets that come with them and then he chose to bat first under heavy cloud cover on Wednesday morning.
Both decisions have attracted plenty of debate – with a searingly honest interview from Broad fanning scrutiny over his omission in favour of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer – and the tourists’ four-wicket victory denied Stokes any hope of delayed vindication.
Jermaine Blackwood’s match-winning 95 in a chase of 200 meant it was the West Indies who would be celebrating in the confines of the bio-secure Ageas Bowl, but Stokes stood firm at the close.
“I’ve really enjoyed the responsibility of leading the team and making decisions. We lost but I’m not going to look back with any regrets,” he said.
“We’re obviously disappointed, but I think we know where the moments were in the game where we lost it. I can’t fault anybody, they’re all absolutely exhausted in the changing room.
“The message I delivered to everybody today is that you leave everything out on that field, for the badge and the number under your badge. So I’m proud of each and every one of the lads out there.”
Far from being disconcerted by Broad’s mid-match intervention, during which he told television viewers he was “frustrated, gutted and angry” about being overlooked on home soil for the first time in eight years, Stokes welcomed it.
While Stokes’ hunch in favour of the speed merchants did not pan out, the logic was hardly disproved given the West Indies’ fastest bowler, Shannon Gabriel, walked away with a man-of-the-match nine-wicket haul.
“We made a decision based around thinking pace was going to stand us a better place in the long game. Stuart is a fantastic bowler and he understands the reasons why,” said Stokes.
“If I was to regret that, I don’t think that sends the right message to the other guys I picked.
“Looking at the interview he gave I thought it was absolutely brilliant. To see the desire and passion that he showed and the answers that he gave, to still see that fire burning deep inside.
“He is nowhere near done and if he plays in that second Test match I really hope he walks off that field with a bit of an ‘Up you’.”
Whether he plays and who he replaces will now be a matter for Root to take on when he rejoins his team at Emirates Old Trafford ahead of next week’s second Test.
And as he passes back the leadership baton, Stokes does so with a newfound appreciation for the office.
“I can see why Joe loses a lot of sleep because he’s got to do that every game,” he said.
“Welcoming him back in next week is great from a team point of view – he’s one of the best players in the world, so he is a big miss when he doesn’t play – and obviously next week I don’t need to make any of the decisions, so good luck Joe.”
Jason Holder has previously overseen memorable wins over England at Headingley, Barbados and Antigua but was particularly thrilled with this one given the unique circumstances.
“It is right up there as one of the best victories we have had as a group,” he said.
“I don’t think either team knew what would play out, it’s been a long lay-off. We’ve been sat at home doing nothing, just trying to wait out this Covid period. When we got the opportunity to play I felt we had enough time to prepare, but mentally, at the back of your mind, you’re not quite sure.
“The fourth day was probably the best day I have had in Test cricket. It was a hard, long toil and the bowlers really put in – every time I asked a bowler to come up and give a spell they came up trumps and gave a massive effort.”
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