England captain Ben Stokes downplayed his landmark appearance against India in Rajkot this week, insisting that joining the prestigious 100 Test club was “just a number”.
Stokes is set to become the 16th Englishman to three figures on Thursday a little over a decade on from his Adelaide debut, where he memorably had a testy exchange with Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.
That combative nature has been a constant in a career of stratospheric highs and crushing lows, but he is naturally averse to celebrating personal milestones, as evidenced most acutely at Headingley in 2019.
On that occasion, Stokes barely acknowledged his hundred and only celebrated after hauling England to a famous victory and he stayed true to type when asked to talk up his 100th Test match.
“I guess it’s a sign of longevity,” he said, almost apologetically. “It’s just a number. Every Test is just as important as the next one. Then there’s the next one, which will be 101 – it’s just one more.
“I don’t want it to sound like I’m not thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. There will be a time when I can (reflect on what he has achieved) a bit more.
“But milestones and stuff like that – it’s not done until it’s done.
“While I’m still playing and wanting to achieve a lot, driving the team, giving individuals what I think is the best platform for them to be successful is where all my thoughts are at the moment.”
Another character trait that has been evident in Stokes the captain is his eagerness to roll the dice and risk defeat in pursuit of victory, largely paying off with six of the former and 14 of the latter.
He is therefore highly unlikely to find himself in the same situation Sir Alastair Cook did in England’s last visit to the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in November 2016, when the tourists received some criticism for declaring too late and setting India 310 to win in a minimum of 49 overs.
With this series deadlocked at 1-1, the temptation could be to avoid defeat at all costs after losing last time out but Stokes was having none of it.
“I don’t get that much pleasure out of a draw,” Stokes said. “I’d much rather lose trying to win. But not winning doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Everything is just aimed towards what can we do.
“Losing always sucks but we’ve lost all (six) games trying to win them. We’ll never go to the grave not knowing if we could have done something a bit different.”
Stokes’ immediate thoughts are on whether to stick with James Anderson and a trio of callow spinners or reintroduce Mark Wood and go with two specialist fast bowlers for the first time on this tour of India.
While Wood was wicketless in the win at Hyderabad and made way for Anderson in the Visakhapatnam defeat, his express pace offers an extra dimension on a pitch renowned for being batter-friendly.
“If we were to go with two seamers the reasons why we would look at Jimmy and Woody would be I just like to have a point of difference,” Stokes said. “And India is never a three-seamer option.”
Getting ready in Rajkot 🏏 💪 🔴
🏟 Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium 📌
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 13, 2024
Even though Jack Leach is out of the last three Tests, Stokes will stick to his pledge not to bowl in this series following surgery on a longstanding left knee injury 11 weeks ago.
Stokes, who last bowled competitively in July last year, sent down three overs in training on Tuesday morning at what he estimated was about 70 per cent intensity.
“It’s little and often now,” the 32-year-old said. “We don’t have a plan with where I go with my intensity. It’s just how I feel at the time, but also not getting too far ahead. It was another step forward.
“But I’ve pinky promised my physio I won’t be loosening up to bowl even if everything is feeling well because that would just be a risk that’s not worth it.”