Rory Burns has declared Ben Stokes’ return to the England squad as “a massive boost” to their chances of success in the Ashes, but says the sudden announcement that the all-rounder would be on the flight to Australia came as no surprise to him.
After taking time away from the game to recover from finger surgery and prioritise his mental health, Stokes was not initially named in the squad but was added a fortnight later after declaring himself fit and “ready for Australia”. England’s Test specialists arrived on Saturday and are currently quarantining on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
“To get Stokesy back in the side, back in the squad and back around things is obviously a massive boost for us – we know what a good player he is,” said Burns, speaking while isolating in his hotel room. “But I wasn’t actually that surprised. I kind of felt like something was bubbling away.”
“It was nice when I saw it announced and it’s obviously exciting because we want to get out here and have the best side possible, and obviously Ben adds to that in a massive way,” Burns added.
England’s top order has regularly disappointed of late, and across the last three years Burns had played 26 innings with Dom Sibley, seven each with Keaton Jennings and Jason Roy, six with Joe Denly and even two with Jack Leach, none of them averaging more than 28.5. But towards the end of their series against India in late summer, Burns was partnered with Haseeb Hameed, resulting in two century standsfrom three attempts.
“I think me and Has, in weird ways we probably do it slightly differently but as a partnership it was working quite nicely,” Burns said. “We don’t really say too much to each other at various times, but what we did say seemed to go at the right time. It was a nice little partnership developing there, and if we can pick back up where we left off last summer it’ll be a good thing.”
“In recent times we’ve probably not scored as many runs as we’d like, but the challenges that lie ahead in Australia we can almost [anticipate] so preparation is key and we’ll be looking to get that right,” the 31-year-old concluded.
Jason Roy, who hobbled off the field during England’s unsuccessful run chase against South Africa at the T20 World Cup on Saturday, has undergone scans on the injury in Dubai. Results are expected on Monday, when a decision will be taken on whether he will remain in the squad or be replaced.
James Vince and Liam Dawson are with the squad as travelling reserves, with the former the obvious choice to step up should Roy be ruled out of the remainder of the tournament as is widely expected.
In Roy’s absence the most likely reorganisation would see Jonny Bairstow, who opens in ODIs and has done so in 15 T20 internationals, move up the order. Bairstow has recently settled at No 4, having batted there in 13 of his last 18 T20 innings, and though he is the obvious choice to start alongside Jos Buttler, doing so effectively destabilises two positions.
The choice then would be between bringing Vince or Sam Billings into the middle order as a specialist batsman, or abandoning the batting-heavy approach England have preferred in their previous games in the tournament and select an extra bowling option.
David Willey would be the obvious choice given his potential contribution with the bat – his average in 203 T20 career matches is 23.73, slightly superior to Billings’ 23.64 in 201 games – but Tom Curran and Reece Topley, who replaced the injured Tymal Mills in the squad last week, are alternatives.