England captain Joe Root says Ben Stokes is eager to shoulder the “added responsibility” of batting in the problem position of number three in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
The tourists will field an unchanged XI at Pallekele Stadium following their resounding victory in Galle, leaving out the fit-again Jonny Bairstow and promoting their star all-rounder to arguably the most crucial spot in the order.
England have spent five years seeking a long-term successor to Jonathan Trott, with Root vacating the role in the summer and Moeen Ali’s double failure in the previous match forcing yet another rethink.
“Ben’s technique is sound and he will be able to adapt to this role.”
The talk of responsibility is pertinent given Stokes lost the vice-captaincy last year, in the aftermath of the incident which saw him miss the Ashes and ultimately be acquitted on a charge of affray.
Despite surrendering the formal leadership role, he has never relinquished his influential status in the group and will not shrink from the challenge that comes with his elevation.
He has played 64 of his 85 Test knocks as a number six but will now have the opportunity to define the innings rather than rescue or polish it.
England are nevertheless mindful of over-working their all-rounders, and last week pencilled Jos Buttler in to swap with Moeen if the spinner was tired from his efforts with the ball.
Buttler could play a similar safety net role for Stokes, though it seems unlikely his headstrong nature or endless reserves of energy would allow for that.
“We are in a fortunate position that many in the side could bat in that position. If we feel that he has done a tremendous workload with the ball, then we can adapt and alter the order if it’s necessary, but I don’t expect that to happen,” explained Root.
“Ben is one of the fittest guys in the side, so the intensity of batting in the top order and bowling as one of our three seamers, will not faze him.”
Root also opened up on breaking the bad news to his long-time Yorkshire team-mate Bairstow.
He arrived on this trip inked into the side as first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman only for an ankle injury suffered while playing football during the one-day series to rule him out of the first Test.
His replacement Ben Foakes, originally called up as cover, went on to enjoy what Buttler dubbed “the best debut ever”, making himself effectively undroppable with a composed century and a fine outing with the gloves.
Bairstow trained exceptionally hard to prove his fitness and will be acutely disappointed to be left on the sidelines for tactical rather than medical reasons after three impressive years in the post.
“Jonny was available for selection,” admitted Root, admirably preferring not to hide behind caution over Bairstow’s condition.
“Trevor and I have spoken to him about finding the right balance for this Test with the conditions we are expecting.
“He understands the situation and is aware that we have to pick the side that is best suited to conditions we can expect in Kandy.
“It is unfortunate that he missed out through injury in the first Test. He is a integral part of our plans and is a key member of our core squad and his experience around the group is important.”
Kandy was expected to offer the most seam-friendly conditions of the tour but Sri Lanka’s defeat in Galle led them to request a dry, spinning track.
That meant any prospect of breaking up England’s trio of tweakers – Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach – in favour of a returning Stuart Broad was jettisoned once the surface was assessed.