No tale of redemption
England play West Indies in repeat of World T20 clash without final’s protagonist Stokes
A sell-out Durham crowd will be denied a rematch between local favourite Ben Stokes and his World Twenty20 conqueror Carlos Brathwaite tonight, but England captain Eoin Morgan insists resting the all-rounder is the right decision.
The county have exceeded expectations by filling every seat in the house for a standalone match that lays bare the lack of context bedevilling the format at international level. Many of the 13,000 flocking to Emirates Riverside must have wanted to witness Stokes renew T20 hostilities with the man who clubbed him for four sixes to win the final in Kolkata last April but he has instead been handed a controversial, but well-earned, breather.
In standing Stokes down from duties at Chester-le-Street, the selectors have not only scuppered a grand homecoming for a man whose stock, profile and wealth have soared since his nadir in Eden Gardens but also quashed a compelling narrative in a contest crying out for one.
But Morgan understands that the shortest format must play its part in England’s long game, particularly with an Australia tour on the horizon. “I can see both sides of it, of course guys want to see him play,” he said.
“And if there wasn’t an injury risk down the line or a huge Ashes tour coming up potentially he might be able to play. It’s unfortunate it has to be a game at his home ground but we have to stay strong with the decisions and the plans we have so down the line we don’t regret playing him in a one-off game.”
The Dubliner brushed aside suggestions that Stokes versus Brathwaite represented a seminal moment of sorts, with the pair having already faced off in 50-over cricket since their most famous meeting. “It’s nothing to us,” he said. “It’s a long time ago. Ben has obviously learned a lot since then, become a more senior, more experienced player since then and he’s better for the experience.”
Morgan thinks victory against West Indies in tonight’s T20 will help his young side improve their consistency. The match at the Riverside Ground is the two countries’ only match in the shortest format of the game before the five-match ODI series kicks off next week.
England won the Test series 2-1 following a somewhat surprising West Indies’ victory in the second meeting at Headingley, but Morgan expects a stronger showing from the tourists at Chester-le-Street.
“They probably have a bit more experience (than their Test squad) which is great. We want to play against the best possible side available in order to try and improve our game,” Morgan said.
“We’re a very young side and we have a long way to go in T20 cricket. Our consistency levels have been up and down so it’s all to play for tomorrow.”
Hard-hitting batsman Chris Gayle is set to return to the West Indies lineup and Morgan thinks batting is where their strength lies.
“It’s one of their strengths,” he said of West Indies’ batting. “It’s probably one of our strengths as well. It’s going to be a really exciting game.”
Tactical move: Stokes has been rested with an eye on the Ashes in November.