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England have a better chance of beating Australia in Ashes already - Agnew column

By Amanda Caroline  •  September 15, 2022  •  11

Ben Stokes' captaincy has already given England a better chance of beating Australia in next summer's Ashes.

After the 4-0 defeat last winter, I thought Australia would come here and just hammer England but that isn't necessarily going to be the case now.

I feel much more confident about England's prospects and that is largely down to what Stokes has done to this team since taking over from Joe Root in April.

Coming into the summer after the Ashes and a defeat in the West Indies, I thought England would lose six Tests out of seven this summer rather than win them as they have with a 3-0 series win over New Zealand, victory in the rearranged fifth Test against India and the 2-1 series triumph over South Africa.

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I always thought Stokes could take his game to another level by being captain. I'm not saying he's done that yet, but we have had a really interesting insight into how he thinks as a cricketer because he's put that into his captaincy.

His mantra of 'the game is never over until its over' and his counter-attacking approach, particularly as a batsman, is his normal game. We've seen that very clearly in his captaincy now and it is very exciting.

It is not always going to work and his frenetic innings in the third Test at The Oval was an example of that, because it gave South Africa a chance to get back into the Test having been bowled out for 118, and that is the last thing you should do.

Everyone prefers to play attacking sport, most people recognise that is a much more interesting and enjoyable thing to do, but there are times at this level where you have to balance it.

But overall the mindset of Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum is very healthy and it was drastically needed after the West Indies, when the team was broken and just looked finished.

Stokes is a very relaxed cricketer and, while he is highly competitive, when the camera is on him in the changing room he's just sat there, reclining in a chair, laughing.

He is fully through the period of his life that saw him take a break for his mental wellbeing last year and he is thoroughly enjoying the captaincy.

He just sees it as a chance to put his stamp on the team and lead by example.

The main thing that he has done, with McCullum, is allowed players to be themselves and to know that they will be excused for being over-attacking or making a miscalculation - it doesn't mean they are going to be dropped.

Whoever you are you've got to be pretty talented to play at this level, so the last thing you want is for a talented player to feel anxious about playing for their place. No England player thinks like that now.

That is all stuff we've heard in years gone by and I don't think at the moment there is a single England player who thinks like that.

England will next play three Tests in Pakistan in December, before a tour of New Zealand in February.

Pakistan will be very different to this summer. It will be played on very flat pitches and it will take a lot of very hard work to get people out.

I expect England to play a very aggressive game, particularly with the bat, because they are going to need time to bowl the opposition out.

New Zealand is a strange tour with just two games and one being a day-nighter. If James Anderson and Stuart Broad don't go to Pakistan, I can see them going there.

One feature at the start of this summer was that you could see this being the end of Anderson and Broad, it could be the time they say farewell and walk off together, waving goodbye to the crowd.

That is not going to happen and far from the red-ball reset taking place in the Caribbean, it happened at the start of June when they came back and Stokes and McCullum came together.