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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

'Steely' Sam Curran stars as England prepare for life without Ben Stokes

Captain Joe Root reflects on near-certain absence of Stokes for Lord's Test as latter goes on trial on charge of affray. But he is relieved to have another quality all-rounder in his team

Even as the immediate future of Ben Stokes remains uncertain, England captain Joe Root sounded relieved to have another quality all-rounder in his team, in the form of Sam Curran.

Stokes took four wickets to power England to a 31-run victory against India in the first Test at Edgbaston on Saturday, but it was Curran who was named man of the match.

Curran, in just his second Test, starred with both bat and ball as England won with more than a day to spare to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.

The 20-year-old Surrey left-arm swing bowler took a Test-best 4-74 in India's first innings 274. He then made a dashing 63, his first Test fifty, to rescue England from a dire 87-7 in their second innings.

It meant England were able to set a target of 194, which proved beyond India as the tourists were bowled out for 162.

England, however, are set to be without Stokes, 27, for next week's second Test at Lord's as it clashes with his scheduled trial on a charge of affray in Bristol starting on Monday. And his almost-certain absence will pose a headache to Root and the England selectors.

"Ben seems himself," said Root, a friend of the Durham star's since their days together in junior cricket. "He's gone about things exactly how he has in every other game.

"When he turns up to practise, or as soon as he puts on an England shirt, he's so dedicated to this group of players to this team and whatever happens going forward he's going to be a big part of this dressing room."

Root added: "It's always a miss whenever he's not playing but we've got a good group of players underneath this side.

"So I'll have to sit down with the selection group and think clearly about what's the right squad for that surface at Lord's and then pick accordingly."

Root said there were similarities between Curran and Stokes which extended beyond the fact they were both lively pace bowlers and hard-hitting batsmen.

"Whenever you watch him [Curran] operate on the field he has this desire and steeliness within him which is similar to Ben - he wants to be involved in the big occasions," Root explained.

"That obviously suits playing in Test match cricket and you've seen that throughout this game.

"I don't want him to blush too much, but that was a fantastic performance to come into his second Test match under pressure and against the No 1 Test team in the world and play like that," he added.

Stokes led the way yesterday with a haul of 4-40, which included the prize wicket of India captain Virat Kohli for 51 after the star batsman had made 149, his first Test century in England, in the visitors' first innings.

But without fellow all-rounder Curran's contribution, England may well have lost their 1,000th Test match.

Meanwhile, Curran said the experience of losing his father as a teenager and playing cricket with his brothers lay behind his leading role in England's dramatic win at the famed Birmingham ground.

Curran was just 14 when his father Kevin Curran, the former Zimbabwe all-rounder, died after collapsing while jogging in 2012.

Both Sam and his brother Tom have gone on to represent England, while their other brother, Ben, is on the books of Northamptonshire.

"It has been pretty tough," Sam Curran said when asked about the death of his father. "I was still young when it did happen, but I've got a very strong family - both my brothers, we're all very close, and my mum's very supportive of all our cricket.

"I think it made us stronger as a family and me stronger as a person."

Asked where his will to win came from, Curran replied: "I think I've learned that as I've grown up, with two very competitive brothers in the back-garden cricket ... 'Don't give them anything!', and I try to take that on to the pitch."

Kevin Curran is seen here during Zimbabwe's World Cup match against Pakistan at Wankhede Stadium in Bombay in 1987. Getty Images
Kevin Curran is seen here during Zimbabwe's World Cup match against Pakistan at Wankhede Stadium in Bombay in 1987. Getty Images