Monday, 22 December 2014

The Rise and Fall of Ben Stokes

Monday, 22 December 2014
At the start of the year, it seemed like the only way was up for Ben Stokes. England's Ashes tour had been an absolute disaster and the team was crumbling further every day, but Stokes had at least managed to come away with credit - scoring England's only century of the series and managing a five wicket haul in the final match of the series. Seeing a genuine all rounder, many were already making the comparisons with Andrew Flintoff, even with Ian Botham. For a side with a daunting rebuilding process ahead of them, Stokes seemed to have put his name down as a big part of the future.

And then he punched a locker. Some were sympathetic, seeing the frustration as a result of such a workload and expectations suddenly being placed on a young lad. Others were less so, seeing it as part of a greater disciplinary problem after being sent home from a Lions tour the previous year. As ever with English all rounders, it looked like the talent was there but so was the baggage to go along with it. Either way, it put him out of England's World Twenty20 campaign and in a battle to find his fitness for the first test of the summer - ultimately being deemed to not have played enough first class cricket beforehand and missing out. And in many ways, it saw him get left behind. The number six spot all rounders make their home went to Moeen Ali, securing his place with a century that so nearly saved England's series. His return to the side saw him batting at number eight, but by then it looked too high. He didn't bowl badly - and if he was batting at eight, really he was in the side for his bowling - but batting wise, his form was starting to resemble a telephone number: 0, 0, 0. A terribly misjudged shot in England's disaster at Lord's and he was gone again - whether it was a drop or a 'rest', the bubble had burst.

For a year that promised so much, it's been such a shame that it just hasn't got going for Stokes. Part of the problem is the lack of consistency with selection, Stokes not really being given a clear, well defined role at any point. In tests he's gone from having the clear position as an all rounder at six to batting number eight, a place between being an all rounder and a bowler. In ODIs he's gone up and down the order - making his way up to number three around the start of the year before falling back to number seven or eight. His performances has gone up and down just as much; he's only played 24 matches so far but as yet there have only been glimpses of the promise we know is there - the odd innings with the bat, the odd show with the ball, but not yet consistent. Sometimes you just have to make the best of what you're given, and really he hasn't seized the opportunities he's had. And in Sri Lanka it just all went wrong, and he lost the captain's trust with the ball in his hand and couldn't make a mark with the bat. For all that excitement as the year begun, it appears that now is just not yet the time for Stokes.

He will of course come back, and I really hope we can see some of those big performances he put in for Durham in the back end of the season replicated on the international stage - his century in the semi-final of the 50 over competition was something special indeed. For now though, with the World Cup imminent, the performances were just not good enough. With the fit again Broad and Anderson both coming back, something had to give, and it was Stokes. While Woakes and Jordan put their names forward, Stokes couldn't take the chance he was given. Hopefully he will take the next.

Extra thoughts on the squad:

  • Naturally I'm very happy to see Gary Ballance return to the squad; obviously I'm hopelessly biased as a Yorkshire supporter and just a massive fan of his, but his one day record is brilliant and I think he can do a good job.
  • As a whole I have few complaints with the squad, but the general lack of experience does say a lot about England in the past year or so - simply searching for their best team. Overall there's a decent mix with a few who have been on the scene for a while, but we shouldn't pin too much pressure on a bunch of players who've barely played 100 matches between them.
  • Still there is the core of a promising team there, and they could cause a few upsets on a good day. Plus, if enough of them stay together for a home World Cup in 2019 then we might have a good chance...or as ever we could be in the same position.

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