Ben Stokes wants fans to "fall in love" with Test cricket again
England's new vice-captain Ben Stokes has outlined his desire that people should "fall in love" with Test cricket again.
While others will have been opening and sending Valentine's cards this week, Stokes has only had eyes for the sport itself after being appointed as new captain Joe Root's deputy.
The Durham all-rounder said: "We need to win but we want to perform in a manner that makes people want to come and watch us. Test cricket is the pinnacle and we need people to fall in love with it again."
Discussing his own role in the side, Stokes added: "Everything I do is to win and being vice-captain won't change me as a person or as a player.
"I want to be involved in all aspects of the game, whether it's hitting the winning runs or taking the final wicket. I have always wanted to be in the middle of it."
Stokes has certainly sought to do his bit to make people love the game with his aggressive bowling, brilliant catching and spectacular batting, the last of which was encapsulated by him making the fastest 250 in Test history in Cape Town last year.
South Africa will be touring here next summer and there should be no problem with the size of crowds in England, where Tests remain well-attended. However, Stokes has pointed to a problem evident in many parts of the world where crowds are low, as fans prefer to see 50-over or Twenty20 matches instead.
Fans booking corporate hospitality for the England against West Indies Test at Edgbaston can expect to be part of a bumper crowd, as history is made by the first ever day-night Test played in England. This innovation, which avoids the coloured clothing and white ball of limited-overs cricket and instead uses a pink ball, has already been used in Australia and the UAE and will be again next winter in the Ashes Test at Adelaide.
The West Indies series should provide one particular point of great interest involving Ben Stokes as he takes on his nemesis Marlon Samuels.
After a few verbals during the last series between the sides, Samuels produced a memorable wicket celebration by taking off his cap and saluting when Stokes holed out trying to hit the off-spinner for six. The verbals continued in last year's World Twenty20 final when Samuels was at the non-striker's end and Stokes was hammered for four successive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite in the final over to snatch an extraordinary win for the Caribbean side.
Samuels has been suspended from bowling for 12 months by the ICC due to his bowling arm being being bent more than the permitted 15 degrees, but he is now cleared to bowl again after Tests on his remodelled action at Loughborough University.
His first spell with the ball back in international cricket may even be with Stokes batting, as England prepare to go to the Caribbean for a one-day series later this month.
The England squad for the tour was announced earlier this week, with Steven Finn replacing David Willey, who has had to undergo shoulder surgery.