Auckland: The return of all-rounder Ben Stokes will be a welcome boost to the England squad as he provides much-needed balance and lifts morale, teammate Moeen Ali said ahead of the two-match Test series in New Zealand.
Stokes returned for the One Day Internationals against New Zealand last month after a lengthy absence due to an affray charge relating to an incident in September, helping England win the series 3-2.
The 26-year-old faces a late fitness test after sitting out the warm-up game against New Zealand XI due to a back injury. Stokes also missed the Ashes series in Australia which England lost 4-0.
“He’s always great for the team,” Moeen told The Telegraph. “The balance of the team is pretty much sorted when he’s in the team.
“It’s just having him in the side, knowing we’ve got a much stronger side when he’s playing. It gives everyone else a good lift, and obviously him being at slip for me, he’s very good in that position.
“He’s ready to go and ready to perform and give back to the team, which I’m sure he wants to do for what happened earlier.”
New Zealand put up a fight in the ODI series, taking a 2-1 lead before England won the last two games and Moeen is expecting another tough challenge from the hosts.
“I think it’s going to be quite a tight series. I think they’ve got a very good side and some world-class players, who are in good form and some very good bowlers as well,” Moeen added.
“I think the difference will be how low we bat — our tail, with [Chris] Woakesy probably going to be No. 9 now, we bat all the way down.”
Moeen, 30, will play his 50th Test in New Zealand’s first home day-night Test starting on Thursday in Auckland.
New Zealand have, meanwhile, added experienced batsman Martin Guptill to their 13-man squad for the Auckland Test.
With Ross Taylor battling a thigh injury sustained during the one-day series against the touring side, Guptill’s inclusion will give New Zealand an extra option across the batting order.
“We opted for extra batting cover for that final spot and with Martin having been playing in the middle-order recently, he can cover a number of positions for us,” selector Gavin Larsen said in a statement from New Zealand Cricket.
“Ross is progressing nicely and is expected to take a full part in training tomorrow [Tuesday]. The team are looking forward to what will be a special match beginning on Thursday.”