‘We’re in the entertainment business’: Stokes wants England to cheer fans

The Ben Stokes cricketing roadshow rolls into Headingley on Thursday, with sunshine forecast, ticket sales buoyant and England’s captain instructing his players “we’re in the entertainment business not the sporting business” with the series against New Zealand already won.

It is 11 years since England last achieved a clean sweep in a home series of more than two games but with Yorkshire reporting that just a few hundred tickets remain for the first four days of this final Test of three – Friday and Saturday are already sold out – it seems the motivation is happiness over history.

The warm glow the team would have been feeling as they practised on the outfield on Wednesday might have been as much due to the manner in which the second Test was won at Trent Bridge last week – amid a Jonny Bairstow barrage on the final day and in front of a celebratory packed house – as the unbroken sunshine.

“We want to walk away with the series won 3-0 because it does sound better than 2-1,” Stokes said. “But as I said to the lads before we started training today, the result will look after itself this week.

“Let’s carry on with what we’ve been doing over the last two weeks and try and think that we’re in the entertainment business rather than the sporting business. There’s a reason why 20,000 people came out to watch us at Trent Bridge, so I set a challenge to the team to be even more fearless, positive and aggressive than that.

“What you saw on that day five was exactly what we want. Me and Jonny just decided that it 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 have to do it with the ball or the bat. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw something similar to what Jonny did last week. If any of our guys get in they’ll be looking to do something, maybe not as good as what Jonny did but similar.”

With Stokes having recovered from the mystery illness that kept him out of training on Tuesday – and, probably no less painful, away from a team barbecue at Bairstow’s house – the only expected change to the team that played in Nottingham will be a debut for Jamie Overton in place of Jimmy Anderson. The team doctors have yet to diagnose Anderson’s injury but Stokes described it as “a bit of a puffy ankle”. The hope is it will depuff in time for the Test against India at Edgbaston next week.

Although Craig Overton has eight Test caps, been in the squad for the entire series while his twin was called up just for this match, and taken more County Championship wickets this season (26 rather than 21) at a lower average (16.9 rather than 21.6), it is the junior (by three minutes) sibling who has leapfrogged into the line-up. He is perhaps a beneficiary of the ECB’s decision to deploy speed guns at county matches this summer, which have regularly clocked him bowling in excess of 90mph. With injuries afflicting many of England’s express speed merchants, including Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, such numbers were never likely to be ignored for long.

“I always love to have a point of difference with my bowling attack,” Stokes said. “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 the moment.

“We all know how big a role pace can play, especially when the wicket is flat and you’re looking to break a partnership, so it’s great to have someone who can bowl fast in your back pocket. He’s in great form as well so there’s not a better time for him to show the world what he’s got.”

Stokes was absent when England beat India here last summer, with this his first international appearance at Headingley since the unbeaten 135 that steered England to victory over Australia in 2019. “They had the highlights on the big screen here before, which was quite nice to look back on,” he said.

“It’s always a great place to play as an England cricketer. You get fantastic support – the Western Terrace, that’s a good stand. The only bad thing is the size of the changing rooms, everything else about the ground is good.”

In 2014 a furious Stokes famously broke his hand attempting to single-handedly demolish a dressing room after a first-ball dismissal in the Caribbean. However cramped their quarters given their current swagger, Stokes and his charges seem likely to restrict their wrecking to the record books.