London: Former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Friday that the team has to look after all-rounder Ben Stokes during the 2021/22 Ashes in Australia.

He added that Stokes should play the first Test at The Gabba on December 8 as he can match Australia step by step. Stokes is making a comeback to competitive cricket after taking a mental well-being break in July as England will be aiming to regaining the urn in Australia for the first time since 2010/11 during the five-match series in December and January.

“There is no question that England must look after Ben Stokes during this Ashes, but as long as he comes through his mental and physical tests, he must play at the Gabba next week. An away Ashes is more demanding than anything else in cricket because of the conditions, opposition, crowds and travel.

“And Covid restrictions have added an extra element. If you are not fully up for the fight, Australia is not the place to be,” wrote Hussain in his column for Daily Mail on Friday.

“Coach Chris Silverwood and England director Ashley Giles have said they will not rush Ben back. That is the right approach. They have to show a duty of care to someone who has not played since July because of his broken finger and to protect his mental wellbeing.

“But in an iconic series when you need your toughest characters and the type of cricketer who will stand toe to toe with the Australians, Stokes is a must-pick for Brisbane on Wednesday,” added Hussain.

The 53-year-old believes that when Stokes is around the England team, the effect of his presence rubs well on the side as well as captain Joe Root.

“Root will have Jos Buttler one side of him and on the other he will want his talismanic figure, the man who will constantly be urging him to take the aggressive option. That man is Stokes. Root can be conservative and, yes, there will be times when he has to ‘sit in’ against Australia. But England’s attitude changes when Stokes is around.

“Just look at the type of players who have succeeded against Australia. Ian Botham, Kevin Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and, lest we forget, Stokes himself so famously at Headingley in the last Ashes. They never took a backward step. So Joe Root will be desperate to have Stokes in his side at the Gabba.”

Hussain wants England to keep Stokes at number six in the batting order as it would be beneficial in getting the rhythm back.

“I would bat Stokes at six at the Gabba. I always find it a little odd for batters to come in after an all-rounder, so the time has come for Ollie Pope or Jonny Bairstow to bat at five followed by Stokes and then Buttler. And if he doesn’t play now, when will Stokes get into nick? They are playing all five Ashes Tests back to back and there will be no other warm-up opportunities for him. He can take time to get back into the rhythm of batting, so it won’t be easy. The sooner he starts playing, the quicker he will be up to speed.”

At the same time, Hussain has cautioned England on making Stokes bowl a lot with his medium-pace.

“Where England have to be very careful is in limiting the overs Stokes bowls. That can be difficult because whatever Stokes does, he does it full-on. So Root and Silverwood will have to be very strict, talk to the medical people and Stokes himself. If it means restricting him to 10 overs a day, so be it.

“This lad has missed so much cricket and the rain in Queensland means he hasn’t even been able to get much time in the two warm-up games. So much of batting is a mental challenge, but bowling is very much a physical one and we know Ben won’t ease himself into the workload. The last thing we need is for him to be going into his 15th over of the day at the Gabba and his body snapping.”