'Saw it as an opportunity to pounce on Australia' - Stokes defends infamous first-innings declaration
Despite gutwrenchingly finishing second in the thrilling Ashes 2023 opener in Edgbaston, where lower-order men Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon earned Australia a famous heist, Ben Stokes stood firm in defence of his controversial move to declare the England first-innings with less than 400 runs on the board.
In a call that shocked cricket lovers and pundits, Stokes brought his men back at 393/8 on Day 1 of the fixture despite centurion Joe Root standing unbeaten and the home team's tailend batters providing him fruitful company. They were expected to remained not out overnight and push hard the next morning to stretch the innings towards 430-450-run mark.
But Stokes opted to have a 20-minute sustained burst with the new ball against vulnerable Australian openers, giving his pacers two bites at the fresh cherry. It didn't work out, as David Warner and Usman Khawaja survived, with the latter producing an exceptional century to guide Australia to 386 all out, within touching distance of the hosts' total.
In the aftermath of Australia's memorable two-wicket triumph in the chase that walked on the knife's edge, Stokes was asked by the press if he regretted his decision to declare the innings in the first essay when another 30-40 runs could well have made the difference in the end.
Stokes stands firm behind first-innings declaration
Speaking to the press, the England captain was stubborn about his decision and indirectly hinted he would do so at Lord's for the second Test as well if he had the chance as the three lions wish to leave no doubts they want to persist the 'Bazball' approach, be it as an allround unit or in their mindset.
"I'm a captain who saw it as an opportunity to pounce on Australia," Stokes said. "I don't think any batter likes to go out 20 minutes before the close of play. The way in which we played, and took Australia on, actually allowed us to be able to do that."
"I could also turn around and say, 'If we didn't declare, would we have got that excitement like we did at the end of day five?'. I'm not 100 per cent sure but I'm not going to be looking back at this game as 'what ifs'. The reality is, we just didn't manage to get over the line this week."
When the fiery question was posed to Stokes' opposition counterpart, match-winner Cummins rubbed salt into the English wounds by saying he perhaps wouldn't have declared at the time and looked to maximise every possible ball faced in the first half, where runs made were absolutely vital.