New England captain Ben Stokes hopes to steer the Test side back to winning ways with the promise of a fresh start and a partnership with Brendon McCullum that leaves players feeling “10 feet tall”.
Five weeks on from his appointment as England’s 81st men’s skipper, Stokes will lead his country out at Lord’s on Thursday against a New Zealand side who became the inaugural World Test champions on these shores last summer.
It will be an emotional occasion, not least because his Christchurch-based mother Deb and brother James have travelled for a family reunion more than a year in the making.
But he takes over a side at a low ebb, having last won a series over 14 months ago and with a chastening sequence of one victory in their last 17 matches.
And while the personnel remains familiar, with a debut for Durham seamer Matthew Potts the only injection of new blood, Stokes is confident he can turn things around.
He has made a point of throwing his support behind the men around him – making recalls for veteran seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad his first priority in the job, promoting Ollie Pope to number three despite a shaky record in international cricket and brushing aside concerns over Zak Crawley’s form at the top of the order.
“I’ve said to the guys who are in now: you’ve got the backing. This is the role and this is your chance,” he said.
“This is our time and we are going to dictate how things go forward. There’s been a lot of talk about a ‘reset’, which is a word I don’t like. I just see it as a completely blank canvas. I just want everyone to feel free under my captaincy.
Stokes preaches selflessness on the field and it was that precise quality – as well as an impressive haul of 35 wickets in six games this season – which earned his county team-mate Potts his first cap ahead of Craig Overton.
“Obviously he’s a Durham lad, but here’s no bias there. He has been outstanding in the games I’ve played,” he said.
“I think the one thing that really made my mind up about Pottsy getting this opportunity was when he bowled us to victory against Glamorgan.
“He turned up on day four with a bit of a stiff side and, someone in his situation, with Test selection coming round the corner, could have just sat back and said, ‘I’m going to just look after myself here’. He didn’t, he ran in and he won the game for Durham.
He was also brimming with praise for the stroke-makers he has backed in the top three, despite both Crawley and Pope averaging just 28 in Tests.
“I just hope that, under mine and Brendon’s laidback, express-yourself way, that the world will get to see what Zak and Ollie are all about,” he said.
“Zak’s shown in stages how dominant and how good of a player that he is. And I really do believe that under myself and Brendon that we will be able to get the best out of him. With Popey, as soon as I took the role on, one of the things that I made very clear is that I want him in my Test team.
“I see him having a huge future in an England shirt.”
The Marylebone Cricket Club, owner of Lord’s, believes the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee has placed a squeeze on demand but, with many tickets costing over £100 and premium seating at £160, many suspect a financial aspect.
And Stokes did not shy away from the cost of living debate when asked about the prospect of gaps in the stands.
“The ticket prices is something that I think is going to have to be looked at properly, because what is cricket without its fans? What is sport without its fans?” he said.
“We want to be attracting people to come and watch us because of the cricket that we play and how successful we are, but I guess you have to look at how much it’s going to cost someone to get into the ground. I don’t set the prices but I think it does need to be looked at.”