England’s Ben Stokes insists recalled Alex Hales ‘shares the same goal’

Ben Stokes will have to overcome both South Africa and England’s late-summer weather if England are going to end his first summer as Test captain with a sixth victory in seven games at the Oval this week, but it is a fight he insists he is ready for.

The first two games of the series have ended with swift and emphatic results, each side claiming a win, and both captains pledged that the rain forecast across much of the first two days in south London would not dilute their focus on victory.

“If we do have a rain-affected game it will be interesting to see what goes on there,” Stokes said, “because I know that we will be trying whatever we can to try and inflict a win. We don’t play for draws. If we do lose a few days, I know what I’ll be trying to do.”

Stokes also insisted he and the recalled Alex Hales share a dream of winning the T20 World Cup as he dodged a question about their personal relationship. Hales’ lengthy international exile is over after he replaced the injured Jonny Bairstow in Matthew Mott’s squad for next month’s tournament in Australia.

Stokes welcomed back Hales by describing him as “one of the best T20 players in the world” but gave short shrift to being quizzed on their association away from the field.“My goal, Alex’s goal and everyone else’s goal who is part of that squad is to win the World Cup,” said Stokes, on the eve of England’s Test decider against South Africa at the Kia Oval.

“Alex is definitely one of the best T20 players in the world and unfortunately with what happened with Jonny we had to call another player up. Alex is definitely one of the guys that bowlers don’t want to be bowling at in the T20 format.”

South Africa’s Dean Elgar, meanwhile, said this game was “pretty much like a World Cup final for us” and “the biggest so far in my captaincy”. He still hopes to return to England next summer for the World Test Championship final, and knows victory would return them to the top of that competition’s rankings.

“There’s definitely going to be a winner in this Test, no doubt,” he said. “We can’t control the weather, it is what it is, but the styles of cricket that we’ve been playing, I’m pretty confident there will be a victory and there will be someone that loses this Test. It’s one of those where you have to empty the tank, you can’t leave anything behind. It’s huge, it’s massive for us.”

Both teams have been forced to make a change to their batting line-up, with South Africa replacing Rassie van der Dussen, who has a broken finger, with Ryan Rickelton and England giving a debut to Harry Brook after Jonny Bairstow’s freak golfing accident over the weekend.

“The way he goes about his game, he’s pretty much a like-for-like replacement,” Stokes said. “He’s always going to look to take the bowling on, take the positive option. It’s devastating to not have Jonny but I’m very excited we get a replacement with the skill Jonny possesses.”

Stokes and Brook played two games together for Northern Superchargers in last year’s Hundred – across those two matches Stokes scored 10 runs off 14 deliveries, and Brook 100 off 61. “There’s just things that stand out about certain players, like the time they have at the crease, the shots they play,” Stokes said of the 23-year-old. “He’s shown this summer the skill he has. The way he operates, the way he wants to go out and dominate is very rare. He’s a huge talent and he has to go out there and show everybody what he can do.”

Brook has been part of England’s squad throughout the summer, allowing the England captain to come to some conclusions about his character. “He’s very chilled, relaxed, doesn’t say much, keeps himself to himself,” he said. “He’s a bit dumb, if I can say, but he’s such a good player.”

Reacting to his captain’s judgement, Brook admitted that he “wasn’t very good at school” but insisted his “cricket brain’s all right”. That much has been obvious for some time, as he compiled a succession of eye-catching scores in all formats of the game – even if most of his recent competitive experience has come in the frantic extremes of the Hundred.

“It’s still a ball. I’m still hitting a ball,” he said. “I don’t think the way I play changes too much. A little bit more extravagant in white-ball, but I am still trying to put pressure on the bowlers.”

Brook’s one red-ball innings in the last six weeks came for England Lions against South Africa at Canterbury, when he scored 140. “This is Test cricket now,” Elgar said. “You can bat like that if you want in a four-day game or a County Championship game, but this is Test cricket. There’s lots of things that can put a stop to you as a player, whether it’s the crowd or the cameras. He got a few runs against us, but we’ve got our fast bowlers who didn’t bowl against him in Kent so I’m not reading too much into that. This is Test cricket, it’ll humble you as a player and as a person. This is the big league now.”