Australia head coach Justin Langer admits he still has “nightmares” about Ben Stokes’ Headingley heroics in 2019, but is glad to see him back for another crack at the Ashes.
The all-rounder produced the performance of a lifetime when the sides faced each other on English soil two-and-a-half years ago, turning the tide of the Leeds Test with a superb bowling display then winning it with an unforgettable 135 not out.
England fans will never forget his monumental efforts in that match and it seems like Langer, who was captured furiously kicking a waste bin to the floor during Stokes’ knock during documentary series ‘The Test’, finds the memory equally hard to shake.
“He’s a great cricketer, no doubt about that. I still have nightmares about his innings in that third Test,” he said.
“I probably have more nightmares about his spell on day three of that game. He’s an unbelievable athlete and a great competitor.”
Stokes initially looked like missing out on this winter’s battle for the urn, having taken a break from the game to preserve his mental and physical health, but is primed to play a full part in the series – which begins at The Gabba on Wednesday – having returned to the fray.
His mere presence – both as a match-winner and a totem – makes life harder for Australia but Langer put partisan interests to one side as he welcomed Stokes’ involvement.
“It’s great for the game of cricket that Ben Stokes is playing Ashes cricket,” he said.
“We all love it as an Australian summer and it probably wouldn’t be the same without the best players playing. It’s nice to see and hopefully his health is good. We welcome him here because he is one of the superstars of the game.”
Langer was tight-lipped when pressed for details of the team he will send out in Brisbane, but suggested the key decisions had been made.
Travis Head v Usman Khawaja
Mitchell Starc v Jhye Richardson
With Alex Carey confirmed as Tim Paine’s replacement following the former captain’s dramatic fall from grace, the two tightest picks appear to be between Travis Head and Usman Khawaja for the final batting slot and Mitchell Starc versus Jhye Richardson in the seam department.
“The hardest part of the job is selecting an Australian Test XI. For the first two years I took it quite personally, because you can’t win…there’s 20 million Australians with an opinion on the Test team,” he said.
“A lot of work goes in, there’s a lot of data now, a lot of discussion, a lot of cricket wisdom around. “When it comes to the XI, I’m not being a smart Alec, but we’re not going to give away all our secrets.
“We’ve been so organised and had our squad available a long time, we’ll leave a few secrets for England. We’re pretty settled on who the XI will be, but it’s all part of the theatre and drama heading up to the first Test – you guys can keep guessing, the people in the pubs can keep guessing, the people watching cricket can keep guessing.”