LEEDS, England (Reuters) – England test captain Ben Stokes has challenged his team to play without fear and put on a show against New Zealand at Headingley despite taking an unassailable 2-0 lead into the final match of the three-match series.
A new era for England in the longest format, spearheaded by the new skipper-coach duo of Stokes and Brendon McCullum, has got off to a flying start, with the hosts blasting to victory in the opening two tests.
“We’ve obviously won the series but there are World Test Championship points to play for. We want to carry on with the way we’ve played,” Stokes told reporters on the eve of the third test.
“I was pretty simple and clear in the dressing room. Let’s try and think like 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 last week.
“So I set a challenge to the team to be even more fearless, positive and aggressive than last week.”
James Anderson, England record’s wicket-taker in test cricket, has been ruled out due to an ankle problem, with Jamie Overton set to make his debut following his impressive start to the domestic season with Surrey.
Stokes said he was hopeful that Anderson can recover in time for the one-off test against India at Edgbaston, which begins on July 1.
“It’s unfortunate for Jimmy, but we’ve got a massive test against India coming up as well. I’m not too sure how serious it is to be honest. He’s just got a bit of a puffy ankle,” added the all-rounder.
“(Jamie) fills a different role from Jimmy, but to have someone in your back pocket who can bowl 90 miles an hour is big for us. That’s the only change this week.”
Stokes took over as captain after Joe Root’s resignation in April, which came on the heels of a series loss in the Caribbean and a disastrous Ashes tour of Australia.
The 31-year-old said his team hadn’t yet completed a turnaround and their character would truly be tested only after tasting defeat.
“We’re still yet to have a bad result. When things don’t go well is when the message we are trying to get across becomes more important,” said Stokes.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru)