Ben Stokes: ‘Hope we’ve inspired a new generation of Test fans’

Australia

Ben Stokes believes that the 2023 Ashes was “what Test cricket needed” and hopes that it has “inspired a new generation” of cricketers in the same way that the 2005 series did for him.

England’s players and management have consistently referred to their desire to keep the format alive since Stokes’ appointment as captain and Brendon McCullum’s as coach last year, and viewing and listening figures have been high throughout the last six weeks.

And while they have not matched those recorded 18 years ago, when the series was available live on free-to-air TV in the UK, Stokes believes that his England team have “managed to drag a new audience towards cricket” through their ultra-attacking style with the bat.

“The series is generally what Test cricket needed: two high-quality teams going toe-to-toe for six or seven weeks,” Stokes said, after his side won a compelling fifth Test by 49 runs on the final day at The Oval. “The cricket that’s been played has been something that you really couldn’t take your eyes off.

“We’ve been in control, then Australia have been in control in different ways, and I think everyone who has turned up to the game has really enjoyed their day of cricket. I guess that’s all you can really ask for, as someone who pays money to come and watch international sport.”

Stokes was 14 years old during the 2005 Ashes, considered by many to be the greatest modern Test series, and said that he hoped the 2023 edition has had a similar effect on young sportspeople across the country.

“I really hope that we’ve inspired a new generation,” he said. “I look back to 2005 and what that series did for me as a young person. I really hope there’s someone who is at my age in 2005 that’s looked at this series and just said, ‘That’s what I want to be doing when I’m 21 or 22.”

Pat Cummins, Stokes’ counterpart, echoed his comparison with the 2005 series, saying that he had noticed a surge in interest in the sport. “That’s been one of the best things about the last eight weeks,” Cummins said. “Just walking around the streets, even.

“You always expect one idiot every now and then but there honestly hasn’t been any. Everyone has been amazing and just taking about the cricket and how much they’ve loved it, and I know it’s the same back in Australia.

“Big viewers, lots of people interested in cricket. How good’s that? It doesn’t get any better. I was a bit young for 2005, but that series gets talked about a lot. It feels like this one might be the same.”

Stokes said that he thought the series scoreline was apt. “I think two-all is genuinely a fair reflection of two very, very good teams going at it over a five-match series,” he said. “Australia being World Test Champions leading into this Ashes, the cricket that’s been on show has been of the highest quality.

“Being two-nil down is a very hard task to come back from, being sat here able to say that we’ve levelled the series, knowing we had to win the last three… the game in Manchester was obviously affected by the rain but it is what it is. Coming here and playing the way we did, I couldn’t be any more proud of the team.”

England scored at a significantly faster rate than Australia across the series, racing along at 4.74 runs per over compared to Australia’s 3.35. “We continued everything in the style of play we have over the last 15 months and it’s been everything I could have asked for – minus getting the urn back,” Stokes said.

Asked if the result vindicated England’s attacking style, he said: “If you look at the success over the amount of games we’ve played, the style obviously works. We’ve been very successful. Criticism is part and parcel of everything you do but the most important views and opinions that I view as a leader are the ones around me.”

But he stopped short of saying that Bazball should be adopted by the rest of the world. “It’s unfair for me to sit here and say, ‘This is how other teams should play,'” Stokes said. “If other teams take that upon themselves to take inspiration from the way we’re playing to benefit them, then great.

“But I don’t think I’d ever say that every other nation should be playing in the way we do, because every team is full of different individuals. Different styles of play bring out the best in individuals and teams, but the way we play brings the best out of our individuals – and us as a whole team collectively.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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