Former England captain Nasser Hussain believes Ben Stokes’ inclusion in the England squad for the forthcoming Ashes proves he is in a better place both physically and mentally.
The all-rounder was initially unavailable when England named the touring group for Australia, having spent the past three months on an indefinite hiatus to allow a finger injury to heal as well as prioritise his mental health.
However, after having a second surgery on his left index finger earlier this month, Stokes has filmed himself back in the nets batting and bowling, fuelling speculation of an Ashes return, which was confirmed on Monday morning.
The news delighted Hussain, who told Sky Sports News: “It is obviously great news for England as Ben Stokes is virtually irreplaceable in any format. He’s one of the great all-rounders in world cricket at the moment.
“But more importantly it’s great news for Ben Stokes, both physically and mentally. It is absolutely great news that England have got their talismanic cricketer back in the side.
“I think with the bowling they will need to ease him back in gently but with the batting, as long as that finger is fine, he will be able to go straight back in.
“I think where he might need looking after mentally is when he has to go back into that quarantine situation and back into a bubble.”
Hussain’s fellow Sky Sports Cricket pundit and former England captain Michael Atherton insists Stokes is the type of player the team will need if they are to be successful in Australia.
“It is brilliant news for Joe Root as Stokes is his right-hand man, a talismanic all-rounder,” Atherton told Sky Sports.
“You need a certain type of cricketer in Australia to do well there. Cricketers like Stokes and Stuart Broad.
“When Australia fans are screaming at you at Melbourne or The Gabba or wherever, you want people who are not going to be shrinking violets, people who are not going to shy away from that very difficult challenge.
“England rushed him back before and he wasn’t quite right. He has been off now since July 26th I think was the last game he played, so fingers crossed he has now had that chance to reset.
“Top class all-rounders are like gold dust. When you go to Australia you need a certain type of cricketer to do well there, and Stokes is exactly that type of character.”
Former England fast bowler Steve Harmison believes Stokes’ inclusion is a “game changer” ahead of the Ashes series.
Superb. Sublime. Stokes.
— Lord's Cricket Ground (@HomeOfCricket) October 25, 2021
“Knowing Ben since he was 15 years old, I am more happy that he is feeling well and feeling good about himself. That for me is the best news, England is secondary for me from that point of view,” former Durham paceman Harmison told talkSPORT.
“But it’s a game changer because when Ben Stokes is not in the side it raises a lot of questions about the balance about who bats where, how many bowlers do we play, are we a batsman short? That takes all of that away.
“I’m not saying England wouldn’t win without Ben Stokes but having him gives England a much better chance. It will still be extremely difficult to win in Australia even with Ben Stokes, but it improves the chances.
“This kid is a freak of nature. Whenever Ben stands up is it usually at a time when England needs him and it’s normally at a time when the game is at it’s most difficult. He does extra special things.”
Friend of Stokes and Sky Sports pundit David “Bumble” Lloyd echoed Harmison’s thoughts.
“Firstly, I’m absolutely thrilled. I know Ben really well and I know he’s been suffering, not least with his mental health, but also with this finger which is a really troublesome one and if you see it it’s all pinned and gnarled,” the 74-year-old told talkSPORT.
“There’s nothing better than when you’re a cricketer or a sportsmen than being back playing, and he is back playing.
“He’s the heartbeat of the team and sometimes when he doesn’t play it just floats along a little. There are players who can turn a game on its head and Ben Stokes is that kind of player. He doesn’t allow a game to just drift, he gets you on the edge of your seat and you know something is going to happen.”