England skipper Stokes says Ashes countdown behind Anderson axe

England captain Ben Stokes said Tuesday the need to build a side capable of winning an Ashes series in Australia lay behind the decision to call time on James Anderson’s extraordinary Test career.

The 2025/26 Ashes may still be some 18 months away but England are determined to field a pace attack both experienced and fit enough to withstand the strain of a five-match series in Australia.

As a result, the first Test between England and the West Indies at Lord’s starting on Wednesday, will mark 41-year-old paceman Anderson’s 188th and final appearance in the five-day game after a record-breaking career spanning two decades.

No fast bowler has taken more than Anderson’s 700 Test wickets and only India batting hero Sachin Tendulkar has played more matches at this level.

England have also dropped Jonny Bairstow after exactly 100 caps and left out Ben Foakes as well, with debutant Jamie Smith now installed as wicketkeeper.

Fast bowler Gus Atkinson, a Surrey team-mate of Smith, will also be making his Test debut this week, with rising star Shoaib Bashir chosen as England’s first-choice spinner instead of the more experienced Jack Leach.

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England last won the Ashes in 2015 and haven’t triumphed in Australia since 2010/11.

“Look at where we’ve got to go in 18 months’ time, to Australia,” Stokes told a pre-match press conference at Lord’s. “We want to win that urn back.

“We don’t want to be standing still. I want to keep making this team push themselves as hard as they possibly can.”

Stokes has had a good long while to ponder England’s future since a 4-1 series loss in India earlier this year.

“I think it’s been five months since we played a Test match — that’s a lot of time to think about how you can take the team forward,” said Stokes.

“I’ve been captain now for two years, so for me it’s about progressing this team. You sometimes have to put personal relationships and things to the side.”

Whole package

The 33-year-old all-rounder added: “I don’t want to say I’m stubborn, but one thing I’m very clear on is that I know that these decisions are best for the team, from my point of view, and that comes with responsibility of being a captain.”

Stokes paid tribute to Anderson by saying he was an “incredible ambassador for fast bowling” and the “whole package”.

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Anderson, set to mentor England’s quick for the rest of the season following his Lord’s farewell, proved he was still a force to be reckoned with by taking seven wickets for Lancashire against Nottinghamshire last week.

“He’s an amazing bowler, there’s no doubt that he could still go out there and play Test cricket because he is good enough,” said Stokes, who stressed he was good friends with Anderson.

“When we spoke with Jimmy, we laid it out with him and gave him the reasons and he totally understood it. This week will all be about Jimmy and rightly so, but I can tell you that his main focus is about going out there, taking wickets and trying to win this game for England as much as he can.”

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