Ben Stokes wants England to 'enjoy' Pakistan series after Covid crisis
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LONDON – Stand-in captain Ben Stokes has urged England's new one-day squad to "enjoy" their unexpected chance against Pakistan and play with "a smile on our face".
England's original plans for a three-match one-day international series were torn to shreds just 48 hours before Thursday's opener in Cardiff after all the originally selected squad were forced to self-isolate when three players and four support staff all tested positive for Covid-19.
That led England having to hastily assemble an entirely new 18-man squad, with Stokes parachuted in as captain in place of fellow World Cup-winner and regular white-ball skipper Eoin Morgan.
Stokes had originally been left out by Englad to continue his recovery from a finger injury suffered while playing in the Indian Premier League.
But the star all-rounder now finds himself captaining an England squad featuring nine uncapped players and several surprise recalls.
One consolation is that all of England's new group of players and staff, including head coach Chris Silverwood, who was meant to be taking a break during the Sri Lanka and Pakistan ODIS, have tested negative for Covid-19.
"Situations like these are so rare and such a fluster, I would say you have got a chance to represent your country so let's do it with a smile on our face and just enjoy it as much as we can as a group," Stokes told a conference call on Wednesday.
Stokes admitted he was stunned by the timing of his England return, given team management had indicated they wanted him to continue working his way back with Durham.
"It was the last call I was expecting, late in the evening," he said. 'Spoons' (Silverwood) straight up asked me the question 'Can you come and do it?'.
"After the call happened my wife sent me a screenshot of an article saying 'England aren't going to rush Ben Stokes back'. It's one of these situations that's an example of 'if you don't laugh you'll cry'.
"But it was like when I came back for Durham a bit earlier, my job needed me to do something, so I had to stand up and do that."
Meanwhile, Pakistan captain Babar Azam, asked if his side had contemplated abandoning the tour because of the virus outbreak within the England camp, replied: "No, we didn't think about it, it didn't come into our minds at any time."
Pakistan are also due to play England in three T20 internationals, with Azam saying he had received assurances from both boards that they would "take care of the safety and health" of his players.
Among the surprise names in England's new ODI squad are Gloucestershire left-arm seamer David Payne and Middlesex wicketkeeper John Simpson.
But Azam, the world's top-ranked ODI batsman, was wary of the newcomers after playing for English county Somerset in recent years.
"We can't take any player playing for England lightly," he said. "They may be new players but they are playing for England.
"I know a few of them having played in the T20 Blast and those we don't know we have researched their performances."