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Paul Nixon: Having Ben Stokes’ presence will be huge

20 Oct | interview | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Paul Nixon: Having Ben Stokes’ presence will be huge
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking exclusively with Betway, Former England cricketer Paul Nixon is confident that England will beat South Africa this Saturday.

Visit Betway’s cricket betting page for the latest Cricket World Cup odds.

After a tough defeat to Afghanistan, what do England need to do going into this match against South Africa?

”The Afghanistan loss was tough and really frustrating. I thought England would be alright, but they just didn’t get the score against them – 215 was nowhere near enough. England’s top-order has to fire and the squad has to be together. They need a nice 85, or even 100-plus hopefully, to get past that power-play and then build a nice big score from there. The pitches have been pretty good in this tournament, but we’ve seen one or two that spit and bounce a little bit. England should be ok if they play on a good surface.

TalkSPORT’s Andy Jacobs described it as ‘like losing 10-0 to Albania!’ How would you describe it, and what do you think of those comments?

I think Andy Jacob’s comments were a bit harsh. Afghanistan have a few world-class players and they play all around the world in the big competitions. We’ve seen so many of their guys, like Gurbaz, be high-class around the world in the last couple of years and build their reputation. He’s a beautiful batsman to watch. Naveen-ul-Haq was at Leicestershire previously and he got 50 wickets in his first couple of years in country cricket. He’s a bit like a Bumrah – he can bowl in all formats, he can start, take wickets up-front, and then squeeze and take wickets in the middle. His death ball is class! To have that competency, from a world-class bowler who can bowl in all three areas is truly high-class. It makes such a difference.

The Netherlands have just beat the Proteas too, what’s happened to their form, are they back to their choking ways at big competitions?

Being an Englishman, I’d say I hope that the Proteas are back to their choking ways in big competitions! They’re a class act, though, and they have some great cricketers. The Netherlands though, Colin Ackermann was also at Leicestershire and he’s been really consistent over the last few years. Anybody can beat anybody on their day, especially if you can take early wickets up front. Bas de Leede, who was at Durham, is a high-class cricketer and he’s a good all-rounder with good pace and dangerous batting later on down the order. 

There are so many guys from smaller countries who now play around the world and it’s down to the development. Paul van Meekeren has played a lot of country cricket and he’s 6ft 5, a fast bowler, and his delivery has a really steep bounce. He’s another guy who can take wickets through the middle – something that’s a really tough part of this format as that’s where you risk spinners coming in and where you need real pace. It’s a bit like the role that Liam Plunkett played for England in the 2019 World Cup final at Lord’s. You need guys in that middle format, whether it’s T20 or 50-over cricket, to take wickets as that’s the tough part.

Ben Stokes is looking likely to be back for this game, how key is this for England? The Test skipper looks to be on a bit of a holiday at the moment.

Having Ben Stokes’ presence will be huge. I was watching him walk around the other day as the cameras were following him around and I thought he’d struggle. To be brutally honest, he didn’t look right. I just hope that he is right and we’re not playing him when he’s not 100%. You can get away with playing him at 80 or 85%, but you can’t get away with 45 or 50% fitness. It’s not fair on the team.

It’s really crucial that Stokes is right as we all know what Ben can do with a bat and ball. He’s incredible. We might see him take more pace off his bowls than normal. As far as his batting goes, once he gets in, he deals in boundaries, so all we need is  Ben to get in and face 20 or 25 balls. If he can do that, then the opposition should look out.

Klassen v Stokes, a match up you’re looking forward to?

I’m very much looking forward to the Klassen v Stokes battle. Klassen has been high-class and his ball-striking blew us away when he was in England. He’s a guy who can change a game in three or four overs! He needs to get in and that’s when he’ll need his top-order to give him some time to get in and take the majority of the shine off the new ball. He won’t want to get in when the ball is pretty new. The Proteas have been going well with their middle and top order. Quinton de Kock is a high-class player, Markram has been batting beautifully, but Klassen, Miller, and Markram in that middle-order are the three game-changing players. England have to be careful and bowl well to their fields. The analysis guys have got to work hard and make sure they know. The England guys need to know where they’re going to look for the boundaries and make sure they execute well with the ball. There should be some good crowds there, even if they’ve been disappointing aside from the India matches! It’s a really big game and I know there’ll be a lot of English support.

You mentioned Aiden Markram – they don’t call him ‘The Sauce’ for nothing! Is he someone you’re looking forward to seeing playing? We didn’t see much of him against The Netherlands, but are you looking forward to seeing more of him in this game?

Aiden Markram is a world-class player and he’s a real tough competitor. He just needs one of the top-order to be at 45 or 50 by the time he comes in. He can feed off them and give them the strike, before going to the middle until the end of the innings. Markram is a top player, but so much depends on the guys before them – if they can just be in and going. If de Kock or Bavuma can get in, Temba can just get in and be 45 not-out by the time Aiden comes in, then they’ll have a greater platform to go from. He can then play around as the pressure is not on him from ball one. It’s going to be exciting! South Africa have four or five guys in the middle-order who, when they start firing, can be world-class. We’ve seen him get well-over 400! I just hope it’s a good pitch.

Quinton de Kock is a wicket-keeper as well as a left-handed batsman, do you see any similarities to yourself there?

de Kock is a slightly better player than me! It’s really important to have left-handers at the top of your order as it brings a great balance. On some days, the left-hander gets a few freebies on leg stump, and there are other days where the right-hander gets those. It works well, and having de Kock, a 360 player and a guy who’s done it everywhere in the world, is a big plus. He’s due another big score as world-class players often have a few quiet games before they fire. De Kock got a nice 20 in 22 balls with three-fours in the last game. He still struck at 90%, even if he didn’t get any runs. He’ll be itching to get a big score against England.

How good is he when he gets going?

It’s easy to say de Kock is the best, but when he gets going, I think he’s on-par with Jos Butler. When those two get going, they can hit your best ball anywhere! de Kock can give himself room and smash it to the off-side. He can also open up and hit balls flat into long-on and mid-wicket. He’s now added a quality scoop to his game, as well. de Kock can challenge bowlers 360 – and that’s what really hurts them. Up front, people generally try to swing a new ball, but they risk faster bowlers with the new ball and risk mid-on, mid-off up, as if to say ‘Go on, smack me over the head when it’s swinging!’, which brings slip in and caught behind in, LBW, bowled etc. You generally see a third man or a deep-square leg in for the bouncer. Guys that can stand up tall and hit the ball hard down the ground, and have the scoop and the pace, really put top-order bowlers under pressure. It’s going to be interesting to see peoples’ mindset and the way they go about the game.

Is Jos losing the changing room? Not the best start against NZ and now the defeat against Afghanistan, surely not the start he would have wanted.

I don’t think Jos is losing the dressing room like that. England have played three, won one, and needed another win, of course. Jos is a world-class player and he has everybody’s respect. You’ll see him in close quarters with the England player as he’s a really smooth operator who’s really matured brilliantly over the last few years. I think going to the world-class stage of the IPL has massively helped his game and his confidence. I think that’s really crucial for players. The old saying ‘the cream always rises to the top’ is true – Jos never looks out of shape! He’s such a clean striker of the ball and the bowler has only got to miss fractionally and they can go. The way the brand of cricket is, playing in all formats is the way it is now, and he’s going to be an exciting power player. I think the South African balls will be something England will worry about and they’ll wonder what they’ll do.

I think we may see a little bit of pace-off to Jos. They’ll try to bowl as straight as they can. Jos hits the ball with an extra cover better than most people. He can hit you for six if you give him width! Only Chris Gayle to the offside has major power like that. Quinton de Kock and Kohli can do it when they’re really in, but not many, Babar Azam perhaps can hit over extra cover for six consistently. Klassen is another one, but there are only four or five players who can do that. Jos’ hands are world-class and we hope he gets in. Once these world-class players get 25 or 30 balls at the top of the order, then they get in and the bowlers have to look out.

Is he the best man for the job, does he have too much on his plate with captaincy, batting and keeping wicket?

I wouldn’t say Jos has too much on his plate. I think, in this format, you’ve got a lot of planning that’s taken place beforehand. I did it in county cricket for a while. You’ve got your plans and the bowlers know their roles and they have to be accountable. They know their fields and it’s generally a ‘plan A, plan B’ situation. If you need a ‘C’ or a ‘D’, you’re going to be changing the bowler anyway. At this level, they’re pretty well planned and guys will know within a few overs about who’s doing what.

A captain is only as good as the way his team plays! If a bowler bowls four width balls or he bowls a square cut and overcompensates, and if he gets a little feather down to fine leg for four, or if it goes for 8 off the over for the first couple of balls, then they milk a low-risk 10 or 12 off the over. People are looking at the captain, but he can’t control that. Jos is the right man as he’s got a real calmness which is really important. He’s been there and done it in the big games. The players will be gutted for him. It goes both ways and he must be gutted with the way it’s been going, too. However, I think the players will want to make sure that they finish off with a win and that personal performances are high. Everybody has their own goals and aspirations to reach. We’re not quite up to that level at the moment, aside from Dawid Malan who’s been playing beautifully. He’s got just under 200 runs and he’s in a really good place, which is what we need. We need a top-order batsman to have that consistency and we just need a few more to come the party and we’ll be fine.

England haven’t played India yet, they’re top of the table at the minute, they just look dangerous, don’t they?

We always knew India would be amazing, especially at home. Look at their bowlers – in this format, wickets are everything and I think it’s amazing that Bumrah has come back so well from his injury. To come back in and be one of the leading wicket-takers is amazing. He’s another high-class operator who can take up-front and take wickets and can swing it at pace both ways. What makes Bumrah dangerous is that he bowls 90MPH, he can swing it both ways and can bowl full, but he can knock your head off with a serious bouncer as well! When you’re a batsman and you want to negate or dominate the swing balls of a new bowler, you want to get forward and prevent the swing. Where Bumrah is so special is that his bouncer is so hard to pick due to his action and he’s very loose in his front shoulder – a bit like Naveen Ul-Haq. Both of them have that extra lever in that shoulder and they let go of the ball a bit later and have amazing risks as well. It’s so difficult to predict the length of the ball with that kind of action. Their slow balls come into play, as well, due to that jerky action of their delivery. That’s what makes it really tough. It’s one thing being skillful, but that different action also helps in the white-ball format. He’s been amazing. They’ve chased so well, and they were doing it against Bangladesh. They’ve been amazing. The consistency levels have been world-class, and so have the top-order. Rohit Sharma is a class act and he’s led brilliantly. It’s going to be exciting to watch India – it always is. Kohli is playing nicely. India are the team to beat, they really are.

Is this the end of Virat Kohli if India go all the way? Will he retire?

I don’t think India winning will spell the end of Virat Kohli. I think he’s got an insatiable appetite to win World Cups and trophies in every format. It takes a long time to finish in this game and if you can do what you love whilst staying fit and well. I’m sure he’ll be inspired and the nation will inspire him to want to keep playing as long as he can because he’s got the X-factor. He brings so much trust in his game. He’s done it everywhere and he’s been exceptional, so he’s earned that trust. There’s still plenty of passion in Virat Kohli and he still looks like he wants it every day. He seems a very proud man.

Australia haven’t been up to much this tournament, what’s gone wrong there? They got to the last 4 in 2019, what’s changed since then?

Australia haven’t had the consistency they would’ve liked. You normally look down at the batting averages from the batsmen throughout international cricket and you generally see one of the Aussies up there. Marnus Labuschagne is the only one from Australia that’s looked consistent! He got a good 100, but the rest haven’t really fired – which is amazing. They have some high-class bowlers in the attack, we all know that. It’s been amazing to see their top order not firing, but it’s great for the rest of us!

England still have to face Sri Lanka after this, what can we expect from this game?

I just hope the pitches are ok. If the pitches can be a lot harder and not as used, then we have to really dominate the game against Sri Lanka. If, however, the pitch is very sub-continent and has been used before, like the last one when the risk-spinners came in, it’s not pleasant for batting on. Let’s hope it’s not that kind of pitch as that’ll suit Sri Lanka and they can be a handful against anybody. England have more confidence as Sri Lanka have struggled in this competition – they’ve played three and lost three. Let’s hope we can stamp out the authority at the start of the game and go on to boss it.

England are 2nd favourites, still likely?

I think England are nowhere near their A-game and I think they’ve grown in the competition and I think now’s the time to step up. If there ever was a time, it’s right now. You learn a lot from your defeats and your frustration, so let’s hope the guys can ride it well. Stokes coming in adds to that, and England will have to get ready for knockout cricket going forward. England can still do it, but they have to believe they’re a high-class team, even if they haven’t played to their potential. The pitches have been a little bit different, and we have to adjust quickly. I’m sure the guys are practising, though, to get ready for the next game.

What are your predictions for the last four?

My last four has to be India, England, South Africa, and New Zealand. I think it’s pretty simple. I still think South Africa had a poor loss, but they’re still a good side. It’s going to be an exciting finish, and I just hope England can bring their A-game to the party. It’s India’s to lose, but I still want to see them bat first under pressure. I would love to see some of the best quick-bowlers in the world play against India and get that new ball earlier on a fresher pitch. Let’s see. I think India are the team to beat at the moment, but South Africa will come to the party again. It can be anybody’s! South Africa have played three and won two. I think England are on-par with anybody, even if they haven’t played well. This game is all about fine margins, and you have to believe.

Who do you think will reach the final, and who will win the World Cup?

I’m going to go with India and South Africa as my finalists. It’s a bit left-field!

With India to win.’