The Ben Stokes Supremacy

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He might not have the martial arts skills of Jason Bourne – not to my knowledge anyway – but England’s premier all rounder is certainly a wanted man right now. He’s dangerous. He’s gifted. He’s angry. And nothing can stand in his way … except for locker doors of course.

I can’t say I watched his 103 off 63 balls for the Ascending Plum Uber Titans this weekend – a combination of family commitments and an aversion to televised slaughters prevented it – but I didn’t really need to. I’ve seen Stokes go ballistic many times before and know exactly what he’s capable of.

If Stokes can take out the likes of Morkel and Ramada – as he did so memorably during his 258 against South Africa at Cape Town fifteen months ago – the likes of Sangwan and Thampi aren’t exactly going to slow him down. I mean, who the hell is Basil Thampi anyway? Presumably some cross between Basil ‘don’t mention the score’ Fawlty, Bambi and Thumper.

Although I’m not an avid follower of the IPL, Steve Smith’s post-match comments certainly piqued my interest:

That was an amazing innings … we were so excited to sign him. I said before the IPL auction to the owners just do what you have to do to get him … we paid a big amount to get him … we know he’s a quality player.

For an Aussie (let alone the Australia captain) to praise a Pom so highly says a great deal. With a huge Ashes series on the horizon, we’re more accustomed to the Aussies talking down our cricketers.

Although the IPL has transformed international cricket in some ways – players from rival countries regularly forge friendships that would’ve seem unimaginable twenty years ago – it still speaks volumes that someone of Smith’s stature rates Stokes so highly.

I sense that Stokes will be England’s key man in the Ashes this winter (alongside Joe Root) as he plays the game in such an aggressive way. Although Australia are 4/6 favourites and England relative outsiders at 11/4 – you’ll find the best odds and promos from reputable bookies at whatbookies.co.uk – England will be much more competitive if Stokes is on song.

Australia will undoubtedly play aggressive cricket and try to bully England like they did in 2013/14, so having someone like Stokes who can counter-attack and seize the initiative will be invaluable. Momentum is such a huge thing in cricket.

I also expect the Australian crowds to warm to Stokes in the same way that they warmed to Darren Gough. They might boo him initially – which is obviously a sign of respect – but the Aussies admire wholehearted and enthusiastic cricketers with a bit of an edge. If the crowds eventually embrace Stokes as one of their own, it should help the whole England team.

When Stokes was (somewhat unexpectedly) made England vice-captain earlier this year, a few eyebrows were raised – including my own if I’m being honest. However, this piece I received from regular reader Danny Holden, which draws parallels between Stokes and David Warner, changed my mind …

David Warner, the man nicknamed “Bull”, has laid out a path that Stokes would do well to follow: putting aside the childish hard man act and channelling his energy and aggression into taking Australia forward as Steve Smith’s deputy.

 Ben Stokes is a similar bull to David Warner. Bowling predictable bouncers, punching things he shouldn’t be punching, swilling red bull on the Lord’s square at drinks and running around like the proverbial Bull in a china shop.

 As Root follows his counterparts Kohli, Smith and Williamson into test captaincy, Ben Stokes has before him an opportunity to become more than just an unpredictable storm.

 Although he at no point shies away from a good straightener – as evidenced by his defining century at Perth as the rest of the England team succumbed to Mitchell Johnson’s pace – Stokes’ patient batting in the subcontinent and manful toil with the ball has been a refreshing change and shows he can adapt.

David Warner came into cricket as a caricature – an attack dog who could not have been further away from vice captaincy or responsibility. Yet look at him now.

 If Stokes recognises how the mustachioed Bull has gone about his work, then he too can transform himself into one of the great figures in world cricket.

I think Danny is right. There are several similarities between Stokes and Warner: both players are uber-aggressive, get up the opposition’s nose, and can turn a match upside down. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Australia’s experience with Warner convinced Andrew Strauss that vice-captaincy would suit Stokes too.

Although Stokes’ test statistics don’t quite reflect his natural ability yet – he currently averages 34 with both bat and ball in test cricket – he’s probably the best all-rounder in the world at the moment. And if he isn’t quite the best, then he’s certainly the most watchable.

Stokes has made good progress as a cricketer during the last year or so, and his feats in the IPL are making him a truly global super star. Let’s just hope that England manage his workload intelligently over the coming nine months. We have a habit of bowling our stars into the ground (just ask Andrew Flintoff) and the last thing we need is Stokes picking up another of his irritating injuries just before the Ashes.

If Stokes is fully fit and firing this winter then I think that England stand a realistic chance. But if Stokes is injured it will probably be a very long, difficult and tortuous tour.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with WhatBookies.co.uk

17 Comments

  1. I saw his century in the IPL yesterday. Stunning. And there is no sign of his brattishness. When you are competing with the likes of Kohli, du Plessis etc and team mates with Dhoni and many more, you learn respect.

    • James Morgan on

      He’s probably learning a lot from these guys too – their approach, professionalism, strategies, mindset etc. Plus it must boost his confidence when he wins their respect.

  2. Mark Eldridge on

    Good stuff James. I am afraid the IPL passes me by, too. If I could just comment on your last couple of paragraphs? I couldn’t agree more about the workload that could be placed on Stokes.

    May I go against the selectorial grain? We have a reluctance to play an adequate number of out and out bowlers, whilst expecting somebody in Stokes’s position to score big runs and put in decent spells with the ball. It’s one of the reasons why I would like to see a different approach over the summer with Bairstow nailed in at 5, followed by Stokes at 6, Mo at 7 and Woakes at 8. All of them are fully capable of batting in those positions and I think we should have the courage to play four seamers plus Stokes and Ali. I can’t see the point of playing any other spinner because the cupboard is bare. I know Rashid has his fans (and I can understand why) but I just do not think he is going to win Test matches regularly in this country. His batting and fielding add little in this form. I think it would be interesting to see these guys queuing up to get a bowl rather than feeling yet again they have to work themselves into the ground. Additionally, slightly shortening the batting lineup (or lengthening the tail) might just make the top order value their wickets a little more than sometimes seems to be the case.

    It’s time we made the decision to lighten the load of some of these bowlers. Playing four seamers as well as Stokes means that we can take a risk with Wood or include Ball for the slight variety he gives without bowling the others into the ground in what is a heavy but truncated Test summer. Finally it’s not just the workload in the Test series that matters because Woakes and Stokes are playing all forms of the game and need to be managed, even though they are younger than some of the others.

    Do keep going. I always read your articles with considerable interest (and those of your guests).

    • James Morgan on

      Thanks Mark. It’s a fine line isn’t it? Some bowlers might need longer spells to find their rhythm but England currently play too much cricket and injuries are a really worry. I just hope the management can recognise when a player needs to be rested. Nobody is going to admit they’re tired and voluntarily sit out (especially when there’s competition for places).

  3. Good read as ever. I slightly disagree with your line – players from rival countries regularly forge friendships that would’ve seem unimaginable twenty years ago – County cricket in England, used to see many international players mixing and making friendships back in the day. Also the culture of having a beer or catch up after the each game (which seems to have disappeared now) helped encourage friendships.
    I’ve just seen the highlights of the innings and it was a very good knock. Stokes has a nice simple batting technique with a very good eye. For me he needs to work out his bowling and improve his consistency. Hopefully like Flintoff he will be a better bowler as he ages.

    • James Morgan on

      Agreed Bob. Flintoff only started to excel with the ball when he’d fully developed physically. I like Stokes’ bowling because he’s sharp, aggressive, and always likely to try things to get wickets. I suspect he’ll always be a little expensive but I do think he’ll continue picking up wickets. Good bowler to watch.

  4. A little over the top, I fear. Yes, Stokes has something special but not that often. Hoping for great things from him eventually. Most watchable all rounder for me is Ashwin.

    • I reckon Stokes could establish world peace, eradicate homelessness and rid the world of fake Essex eyebrows and still some people would doubt his worth as a human being.

  5. Reminds me of what one of your readers, AndyB, had to say about Ben Stokes on April 21st 2017:

    “Stokes is a shoo in? Only because is reputation is greater than his achievements. His batting looks completely over promoted at 5 or 6. He has a halfway acceptable average only because of that 258 – and we cannot afford a top 6 bat who will perform from time to time.”

    🙂

    • My comment was in regard to the test team – and I stand by it. Stokes is the white ball cricketer par excellence, but his temperament simply does not suit tests as well (although I am not suggesting he is not worth his place as a test all rounder). I would always pick Woakes in a test team ahead of Stokes (something I have been saying in various places since about 2011/12) 🙂 .

      • Surely that’s the luxury of an all rounder at 6. They sometimes perform with the bat and they sometimes perform with ball.
        Unfortunately for Stokes he’s in a team that is quite often 100/4 so he’s need more often than perhaps Flintoff, Botham were before him.

        • Not for me. A no6 should be averaging better than 34 (or under 30 without that one great day). For me he is a no7 bat in tests (Bairstow and Ali are clearly better bats) and a 4th seamer. His fielding is a distinct bonus though.

  6. Stokes -totally overrated!
    Batting average of a number 7 at best and declining
    Bowling average not good enough for a test place. Still not taken 100 wickets in 34 tests.
    All-rounder whose bowling average is higher than his batting.

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