England aim to continue ‘in the entertainment business’ as Ben Stokes targets 3-0

At some point, Ben Stokes might have to stop urging his team to go bigger and better. But for now, the England captain has encouraged his players to “think that we’re in the entertainment business” when they step out at Headingley for the third Test against New Zealand.

Holding a 2-0 lead off the back of a spectacular series-clinching victory at Trent Bridge, Stokes, inspired by new head coach Brendon McCullum, is clearly in no mood to dial things down. In keeping with that, England have chosen to hand Surrey quick Jamie Overton his debut. He will come into the starting XI – the only change – for James Anderson who will not be risked after reporting ankle issues in the week.

Overton has been clocked at 90mph in the County Championship this season, where he has taken 21 Division One wickets at an average 21.61. It is as much a reward for form, the realisation of potential and the fact the likes of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone are injured – all X-factor propositions with their express pace that Stokes believes Overton will bring to the party.

“I would always love to have a point of difference with my bowling attack,” Stokes said. “Obviously Jimmy and Jamie are completely different bowlers. But it’s a great opportunity for us to look at an England side with someone who can bowl fast in it, because we don’t have Stoney, Woody or Jofra to do that for us at that moment.

“We all know how big a role pace can play in a team, especially when the wicket is flat and you’re looking to break a partnership. It’s always great to have someone who can bowl fast in your back pocket.”

It was in 2020 when Stokes got first-hand experience of Overton’s gifts. Having been named in a 55-man training group selected during the first summer of the Covid-19 pandemic, Overton was selected for Team Stokes during a behind-closed-doors intra-squad game at the Ageas Bowl. Asked to bowl a hostile spell of bumpers, he duly delivered. “Jamie was part of that group at the Ageas Bowl back in 2020 and I remember when I asked him to come and bowl fast and short at the batters he did six overs of it and it was very impressive,” Stokes said. “He’s definitely got the attitude and attributes to become an international player which is why he’s managed to get the call up this week.”

Fire in the attack might be the only thing that has been missing from the outlandish cricket England have served up against New Zealand this series. Indeed, it has been something the team yearn for, barring the fleeting moments when they have been able to call upon Wood, Archer or Stone. Of course, Overton will have to wed pace with control and guile to excel at this level.

But Overton will be encouraged to express himself and enjoy the occasion as much for himself as those watching. Beyond ensuring a 3-0 victory, Stokes wants to continue playing to the crowds as they did last week at Trent Bridge during a remarkable final day of the second Test. In turn, he hopes for something similar to Jonny Bairstow’s miraculous, boundary-stuffed 136.

“We want to walk away from the series winning three-nil because it does sound better to 2-1. But, as I said upstairs to the lads before we started training today, the result will look after itself this week. Let’s carry on what we’ve been doing the last two weeks and try and think that we’re in the entertainment business not the sporting business this week.

“What you saw last week on that day five is exactly what it was. For us, it was a matter of just chasing the runs down, not how many overs there were. At not one stage did we look at that. I think it was pretty clear by the fact we knocked them off in 16 overs in the last session. Me and Johnny just decided that was a time to put as much pressure back on them as we possibly could. And that’s what we’re doing this week.

“There will come a time, at some point this week, we [will] have to do it with the ball or the bat. So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw something similar to what Jonny did last week, because I’m sure if any of our guys get in they’ll be looking to do something. Maybe not as good as what Jonny did last week, but something similar.”

Certainly, Stokes hopes one of those “guys” might be Zak Crawley. The opener is the only England batter yet to register a half-century this series and is averaging just 14 after returning 4 and a duck in the second Test.

“I certainly hope he’s feeling this could be his week. But Zak’s a team man. You know it’s always disappointing when you’re struggling to get runs yourself, but there’s a reason why Zak is in this team. Because everyone knows what a player he is and what a big future he has in an England shirt. But Zak, not doing well last week and seeing Popey and Jonny do well, would not faze him. Winning is the most important thing for him. The quality player that Zak is, we know that a big score is only just around the corner. And when he does it, it will definitely be entertaining.”

Fans usually arrive at Headingley full of expectation given this place seems to throw up more than its fair share of classics. That will be multiplied given how the home side are performing at the moment. As it happens, this will be the first time Stokes has played here in an international of any kind since that heist against Australia in 2019, which up until Trent Bridge 2022, had no recent peer when it came to unfathomable English Test victories.

“They actually had the highlights on the big screen there before which was quite nice to look back on,” Stokes said with a smile while standing on the outfield.

“It’s always a great place to play here as an England cricketer. You get fantastic support, we always have and I’m sure we always will. Is that the Western Terrace? It’s a good stand. We always love playing here. The only bad thing is the size of the changing rooms, everything about the ground is good.”

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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