England have vowed to do the best they can to take as much pressure as possible off Ben Stokes as hype swells around the superstar allrounder’s Ashes return.
Stokes made a successful comeback to cricket last week, taking 2-31 and hitting an unbeaten 42 from 56 in a warm-up game against the England Lions.
The rain-ruined match was Stokes’ first proper hit out since July and, despite not having batted in a red-ball game since March, hit six boundaries at Ian Healy Oval.
Stokes’ late arrival after an injury-plagued year has given England hope for the Ashes, taking them from rank outsiders to genuine contenders ahead of Wednesday’s first Test at the Gabba.
But after spending part of the year out of the game for personal reasons, England players are desperate not to pile too many expectations on the 30-year-old.
“The key has been not putting too much pressure on him,” England spinner Jack Leach told AAP.
“We just want him to feel comfortable and able to do his stuff. And he’s certainly been doing that.
“He’s looking in good touch and hopefully he’ll be good to go for the series and will be enjoying his cricket.
“Because I’m sure, like all of us, when you’re enjoying it then you’re in a pretty good place.”
What can’t be denied, however, is how crucial Stokes is to England’s dressing room.
Former coach Trevor Bayliss this week spoke of his influence in the dressing room being just as crucial as his impact with bat, ball and in the field.
Bayliss was at the helm two years ago when Stokes and Leach combined for a 76-run 10th wicket partnership to stun Australia in Leeds, when Stokes made an unbeaten 135.
Stokes’ inclusion in the England squad should also come as a personal boost to Leach.
The tourists are better balanced to play a spinner with two pace-bowling allrounders in the team when including both Stokes and Chris Woakes.
“For everyone that was a big lift,” Leach said.
“For the squad and for me personally, really happy obviously to have Ben.
“He’s a top-order batter but then obviously bowls quality seam, is a real asset and obviously for our spin department.
“He was looking good (in the warm-up game), so that’s really good.
“Stokesy even not quite at his best is still a very good player.”