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Stokes glad to regain role as deputy

Power play: Ben Stokes is relishing chance to have a major say as England’s vice-captain for The Ashes
Power play: Ben Stokes is relishing chance to have a major say as England’s vice-captain for The Ashes

By Rory Dollard

Ben Stokes has revealed the pride he felt after being reinstated as England's Test vice-captain.

Stokes was stripped of the role in 2017 following a late night brawl in Bristol but was restored as Joe Root's deputy ahead of The Ashes, which starts in Birmingham on Thursday.

The all-rounder has impressed with the maturity he has shown around the England camp since being cleared on a charge of affray, with his off-field influence matched by his inspirational efforts during the triumphant World Cup campaign.

Jos Buttler had been acting as Root's right-hand man but was happy to pass the baton back after ECB director of men's cricket Ashley Giles and chief executive Tom Harrison recommended Stokes' restoration.

The 28-year-old said: "I love having that responsibility and it is something that I thoroughly enjoy doing. I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool.

"I am very good friends with Joe as well, off the field, and as much as I can do to help him through his career, not just as a captain but as a player as well, I am really looking forward to that challenge.

"I think it would have been just as exciting anyway, playing in an Ashes series is always special and they don't come around that often, but being named vice-captain again was very good to hear when I got the call."

Stokes headed back north after being rested for the Ireland Test at Lord's, a chance to come down from the physical and emotional highs of his man-of-the-match performance at the same ground in the World Cup final.

That is the last spell of recuperation he can expect this summer, with five high-intensity Tests against Australia crammed into little more than six weeks.

Stokes missed the last series against the old enemy, stood down by the England and Wales Cricket Board following events in Bristol, and is more than happy to focus on the next challenge.

"Everything is on The Ashes now," he said. "We have had that time to let everything sink in and reflect on that amazing seven weeks we have had in the World Cup, but the World Cup was half of the journey that we wanted to achieve this summer, and the other half is winning The Ashes.

"Everything has been focused on what we are going to do to beat the Australians. It is going to be a busy six weeks, five Tests against Australia isn't easy."

Meanwhile, Giles has welcomed the introduction of the World Test Championship, hinting it could lead to a sea change in England's priorities following their World Cup triumph.

This week's Ashes opener at Edgbaston will be the first Test to count towards a new points table in the format, with 72 matches between the top nine nations taking place over a two-year period before a grand final in 2021.

It is the International Cricket Council's latest attempt to bolster the five-day game, which is widely acknowledged as the most prestigious but suffers from ailing attendances in many parts of the world.

The long and storied rivalry between England and Australia needs no additional gimmicks to sell its importance to the two nations, but hopes are high that the context of a league table will increase the relevance of less celebrated series.

For Giles, it is a chance to commit to glory in the red-ball game after finally landing the biggest prize in limited-overs cricket.

"We've had a focus on the white ball for the last four years and perhaps the time has come to redress that balance," said Giles.

"It was important that the pendulum didn't swing back to 50-50, it had to swing right back to white-ball cricket, which we'd never done in this country.

"Perhaps that (affected the Test team) but we needed to do it if we were serious about winning the 2019 World Cup.

"It was great strategy by Andrew Strauss, and led by Eoin Morgan and Trevor Bayliss, and it was the right thing to do, but now we need to look at that. It won't happen overnight but Test cricket is important to us and it's important we win."

Reflecting on the potential impact that the inaugural Test Championship could have, he added: "I'm a fan. Test cricket has been marginalised in some parts of the world with the pressure of the shorter forms and the popularity of white-ball cricket.

"This country doesn't really struggle with that, Test cricket remains popular and The Ashes is sold out this year. England versus Australia doesn't need any more promotion, but around the world it's not that easy."

Steve Waugh, currently with the Australia squad as a team mentor, captained one of the most successful teams in Test history between 1999 and 2004.

He won 41 of his 57 matches at the helm and would have enjoyed the chance to seal that success with silverware.

"It's great for Test cricket, I played a lot over 18 years and many people said we were the No.1 side in the world," he said.

"But unless you hold up a trophy or get to that final you're not really sure. Test cricket really needs this, you need something to hang your hat on if you are the best Test team in the world."

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