Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has described Cumbrian Ben Stokes as the “real heartbeat” of England’s team, ahead of the Ashes.

Stokes, who is due to return to Cockermouth Cricket Club today - where he began his career - to watch their Cumbria Cricket League Premier Division clash against leaders Furness, is expected to be one of the key players as England try to regain the urn.

The 28-year-old played a crucial role in England’s World Cup triumph this summer, re-establishing himself as a vital player after an off-field incident which had threatened to ruin his career.

He was found not guilty of affray last August after his part in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub in September 2017.

Ponting, who was Australian coach Justin Langer’s assistant at the World Cup, has been impressed with how Stokes has gone about redeeming himself.

"It seems like he’s playing with a lot of maturity," the 44-year-old said.

"He doesn’t seem like he’s in much of a rush now as he might have been.

"The thing about his personality as well: he’s a big, strong, brash guy with a bit of an ego, and I think as a younger person, probably everything was flat out – one speed.

"To me, [during the World Cup], it seems like he [was] able to understand situations and play situations accordingly. That’s a bit of maturity and understanding his own game and understanding what his team needs him to do."

Ponting particularly praised Stokes’ ball-striking abilities, which he said rate right up alongside those of the very best.

"He’s a very, very good player," Ponting told

"Some of the innings I’ve seen him play in Test cricket have been as good a ball-striking innings as we’ve seen from the best batsmen in the world.

"He can back it up with the ball, and if he’s not one of the best fielders in the world at the moment, I’ll be very surprised."

Ponting was Australia’s skipper when Michael Vaughan’s England triumphed 2-1 in the historic series of 2005 - England’s first Ashes win after nearly two decades. England’s star performer then was Andrew Flintoff, who stood out at crunch moments.

Ponting sees a similar X-factor element in Christchurch-born Stokes.

He said: "He’s a key man and more a key man because I think he’s that real heartbeat for their team, a bit like ‘Freddie’ Flintoff in Ashes series gone by – whenever they were in trouble and they needed something, they tend to go to those sort of guys.

"And Australia need to keep him quiet if we’re going to win the series."

The first Ashes Test begins on Thursday at Edgbaston.