“That’s the English mentality of turning something into a negative straight away,” came the England captain’s cutting riposte to a question from Test Match Special’s lead commentator about whether Bazball could work against Australia’s bowling attack.
It came a couple of days after Brendon McCullum, England’s coach, had chided one journalist for raising the prospect of his team being on the end of potential “embarrassment” in the opening Test of the summer against Ireland that starts at Lord’s today.
Both responses offer an insight into the mentality under McCullum and Stokes that has transformed England from a team who had won one Test in 17 before last summer into a collective who are overflowing with confidence after a run of 10 wins from 12.
Positivity and a belief that nothing is impossible is at the heart of the philosophy that has driven this dramatic rebirth. And just because an Australia team who have not tasted defeat in an Ashes series for eight years are up next, that doesn’t change anything.
No wonder given the thrilling, aggressive style of play England have developed over the past 12 months has taken them from rock bottom to rockstars – the analogy Stokes used last summer when expressing his desire for England to become the great entertainers of Test cricket.
And Stokes was asked whether England’s performance against an Ireland team who appear to be on a hiding to nothing in this one-off Test at Lord’s would set the tone for the summer.
“I think the way we have played the last year should really answer that one,” he said.
“I find myself answering the same question about ‘is this going to continue?’ But I think it’s pretty clear we have found a way in which we’ve been able to get the best out ourselves.
“What we have been able to do is find a formula that really works. And that won’t change because of the opposition. We haven’t played against Australia, but we concentrate on what we do.”
Stokes, who played just two games for Chennai in this year’s Indian Premier League, was equally bullish about the state of his left knee which affected him so badly at the end of the winter in New Zealand. The all-rounder hasn’t bowled in the nets at Lord’s this week and is not expected to do so against Ireland either.
Yet come the Ashes, he is confident he will be able to play a full part with the ball.
“I have worked incredibly hard and got myself into a place where I feel like I am back at 2019, 2020 space in terms of my own body and fitness,” he said.
Stokes, who admitted he would have a pain-killing injection during the Ashes if needed, just as he did before the IPL, added: “The thing about me is I don’t need much bowling for the rest of my body to tick over. I can have quite a lot of time off and then build up quite quickly. It’s not doom and gloom if I do or don’t bowl in this game.”
As for the Ireland Test, Stokes admits the XI for Lord’s – missing the rested James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood and including debutant fast bowler Josh Tongue – will be markedly different from the one that takes the field for the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston.
“It would be a completely different looking team if this was Australia tomorrow,” he said. “We have had to look at risk versus reward and I didn’t feel this game was worth taking the risk particularly with Jimmy and Robbo. They’ve come off the back of little niggles. It is the sensible thing to do not to put those guys at risk.”
England can repeat 500-run heroics
England’s captain, speaking on the eve of the opening Test of the summer against Ireland at Lord’s on Thursday, was in bullish mood when assessing his team’s chances in the Ashes series that starts at Edgbaston a fortnight on Friday.
Stokes knows the power of positive thinking, with England’s Bazball approach seeing them win 10 of their last 12 Tests.
One of those came against Pakistan in Rawalpindi last December, when they became the first team in Test history to hit 500 or more runs on the first day of a match.
Before Rawalpindi, England had managed to top 500 in a single day of Test cricket on three previous occasions – all in the 1920s and 30s – but never on the opening day. The only other team to have passed the 500-run barrier in a day was Sri Lanka, who hit 509 on day two of their first Test against Bangladesh in Colombo in 2002.
And Stokes was in no mood to play down the chances of his explosive batting line-up repeating the trick and laying waste to an imposing Australia bowling attack this summer.
“Be alright, wouldn’t it?” he said. “Anything is possible I think if you have the backing to go out and do it.
“The thing about letting guys go out and be free and stuff like that is that you just don’t know where their ability ends, if that makes sense?
“I think what we have seen over the last year is that the same players who have been playing for a while go to a lot higher in terms of their potential. And them understanding they might be better than what they thought they were. I think that is totally down to the mindset switch.”
Stokes admits he is aware of the excitement surrounding the most eagerly-anticipated home Ashes series since 2005, saying: “It’s very hard to ignore.”
But he has warned his team not to get caught up in the hype and to treat the upcoming series against Australia like any other.
“This Ashes isn’t going to define us,” he said. “What I mean by that is that this Ashes series is just part of the journey we’ve been on and will continue to be on after this series.
“If you look at it too deeply as the be-all and end-all, when the Ashes series is finished, win or lose, it’ll be like: ‘What do we do from here?’.
“This summer is part of something long and this is just another thing we’ve got on our journey. The best thing about this team is we don’t know the destination.
“Putting too much onus on this series compared to the others we’ve played would – not derail us – but would just not be what we’ve done over the past year. We’ve taken everything in our stride and just taken each day as it comes.”