Ben Stokes, captain of England, defended his decision to declare the team’s first innings prematurely on the opening day of the Edgbaston Test and stated that he would not alter his methods despite the two-wicket loss after five tense days of Test cricket.
Stokes called his batters in at 393/8 with approximately 20 minutes remaining on the first day, with Joe Root batting on 118* and appearing poised to contribute to the team’s tally with his aggressive play. Usman Khawaja and David Warner were able to bat out the remaining four overs before Stumps was dismissed. Stokes’s decision was extensively debated and also criticized by some quarters, with former Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan stating that Stokes would not replicate the decision if England were in a similar position in the Lord’s Test.
“If we were in the same position? Yeah. I would like to be 398 for 6 [sic] with 20 minutes left. That would be great,” Stokes said after the final day’s play.
“I could also turn it around and say, ‘if we didn’t declare, would we have got the excitement that we did at the end of day five?’ I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I’m not going to be looking back on this game as ‘what ifs’… the reality is, we just didn’t manage to get over the line.”
While Australia’s captain Pat Cummins believed he would not have declared in a comparable circumstance due to the placid pitch requiring teams to maximize their first innings, Stokes stated that he intended to “pounce on Australia.”
“I thought that was a time to pounce,” Stokes said at the presentation. “I am not going to change the way I have gone about my cricket because it is the Ashes. Who knows? We could have got an extra 40 runs or lost two wickets in two balls. I am not a captain who gets by on what ifs. We saw it as an opportunity to pounce on Australia and really start day two on top.”
In the meantime, Stokes stated that a week’s break between the first and second Tests at Lord’s was necessary for his bowling attack to recuperate before another shift. England, who bowled 208.4 overs over the course of the two innings in Birmingham, were hampered in their pursuit of victory on the final day by Moeen Ali’s injury to his rotating index finger, which limited him to just seven overs.
“Seven days is actually quite a long time to give everyone a good rest. We’ll meet up again in three- or four-days’ time I think, and we’ll assess how everyone’s going and we’ll have to make a decision from there,” Stokes said.
“I told Mo to tell me if his finger was sore, and I’d sensed that it was even before that. For him to come back into his first Test match and operate in the way that he did and really put himself through the pain barrier for the team [was great].
“You could see what it meant to him going out to play for England again with a huge smile on his face. I selected him for his match-winning moments. He had a few of them with the ball and nearly got us over the line… [The break] gives Mo a good chance for his finger to heal up.”
Stokes, despite persistent knee pain, bowled seven overs in each inning and returned crucial strikes by Steve Smith and Khawaja. He acknowledged that his bowling volumes, albeit modest, were a tremendous boost for the remaining Ashes Tests. “I was absolutely flying high on caffeine,” he said.
“I’ve put my body through more than it’s actually been through over the last year, which is obviously great signs for myself and another confidence boost for me,” Stokes said. “Getting through that, knowing we’ve still got four games coming up has given me a massive boost.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve sort of been able to continually bowl. I was just really happy that I was able to get a good long spell in, and I just love being in that situation. I love bowling long spells, especially when the games on the line.”