Can England Win The Ashes Without Stokes?

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One punch caught on camera. One giant kick in the jatz crackers for England’s Ashes hopes.

When I heard last week that Ben Stokes had been involved in a fight – this time with a real person rather than a locker – my heart sank. It sank even further when I saw that CCTV video of a man getting knocked cold by a devastating haymaker. David Warner can only dream of landing a punch like that. And the whole Aussie team are in dreamland now that England’s talisman might miss the series.

The latest news is that Stokes won’t fly out to Australia with his teammates. No surprises there. He’ll have to wait until the police conclude their enquiries before he can travel. Part of me hopes they’ll let him off the hook – for purely cricketing reasons of course – but justice must prevail too.

Obviously we can’t get into the legalities on this blog – please don’t speculate or prejudice anything in the comments below – but we can talk about whether losing Stokes for the whole series would be a fatal blow to England’s Ashes hopes.

Personally I think it’s a bitter, bitter blow, and it could well be a fatal one. However, perhaps we shouldn’t give up just yet. There’s always the possibility that every single member of Australia’s pace attack will get injured. Ahem.

The thing that frustrates me most about this whole affair is that world class all-rounders are like gold dust. Losing Stokes is like losing two key players at once. It’s a bit losing both Thorpe and Gough simultaneously – something that always seemed to happen when we toured Australia in the 90s. And I don’t need to remind you how all those tours worked out.

Although England will probably miss Stokes’ batting the most – he’s one of our best players with a technique and temperament ideally suited to Australian conditions – I sense his bowling also leaves a big hole. Stokes is our golden arm, and I’m sure he would have picked up one or two five-fers during the series.

At the end of the Windies series we talked about how England only have eight international class test cricketers and three passengers. The debate was whether a team could carry three players down under. The conclusion was ‘possibly’ but ‘probably not’. Well now we’ll have to carry four likely passengers. Our chances of victory have therefore gone down proportionally.

The call up of Steve Finn as Stokes’ replacement also sent a shiver down my spine. I’m not sure who else the selectors might have turned to, but Finn is no substitute for Stokes at all. One is an all-rounder who left the previous trip down under with his reputation enhanced; the other is a pure bowler who was ‘unselectable’ by the end of the series. And I’m sure I don’t have to remind everyone that Finn had a relatively poor domestic season for Middlesex too.

If Stokes is unavailable (or simply not selected) at Brisbane, it will be interesting to see how England balance the side without one of their key batsmen. My best guess is Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root, Malan, Bairstow, Moeen, Woakes, Overton, Broad, Anderson. I’ve gone for Overton over Ball and Finn simply because he can bat better, and I assume Bayliss and Co will be crapping themselves about possible collapses.

Do you think the above team is capable of beating Australia? Personally I do not. I’m not expecting great things from Mo on Australia’s harder surfaces, and Root can’t do everything on his own. Cook and Bairstow will have to play out of their skins if England are to post competitive totals.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think Steve Smith’s men have plenty of weakness too. They’re not a vintage Aussie team by any means. But the fact remains that any Australia team, whoever comprises the final XI, is always tough to beat at home. Consequently I think it’s almost impossible for a team with just seven international class test crickets to win down there.

Of course I could be completely wrong. The likes of Stoneman, Vince and Malan might well step up and score unexpected runs. And Craig Overton might bowl as well as Tim Bresnan did in 2010/11. But would you bet on it? You’re a brave man if you do.

Personally I think losing Stokes – who was photographed smoking a fag with his hand bandaged at Jason Roy’s wedding this weekend – is just too big an obstacle for our erratic team to overcome.

Which is why my initial reaction to Stokes’ alleged altercation in Bristol was one of furious anger. I was so angry, in fact, that I wanted to get drunk and punch someone. Thank heavens I have the ability to control myself.

James Morgan

34 comments

  • I think we’re probably forked.

    That said, I’ll bang the drum I always do – we’ll only win if we work out how to take wickets and that’s actually still a bigger problem than the batting, given that there’s no sign Anderson can do it on dry pitches these days and Broad looks increasingly fragile.

  • they couldn’t win them with stokes – so no

    Moeen Ali will move up the order but plain and simple really, the top order need runs. It doesn’t matter what Stokes wold theoretically do, if the top fail (and I’m pretty confident they will) it’s done for. England were truly massacred last time round and practically nothing has changed since

  • Ashes series sometimes turn out to be quite different from expectations. Bowlers and batsmen have been known to emerge from the shadows. Australia are not a strong but England will need to bat long and bowl effectively to bat them. I think Woakes will do well in both disciplines, and Overton, if given a chance, could be a handful. Although Root must be due a poor series (can he just defer that a bit longer?), others have the capacity for success: Cook, if he has the hunger still, and I think Stoneman could be Chris Broad in 1986/97 mode. Prediction: England to win 2-1 without Stokes. With him? 3-1.

    • Stick to singing Tony, love your career mate, Mum has all your records. All that touring has made you a little delusional if you think that England had/has a chance with or without Stokes. When are you next in town?

  • I have to admit I don’t fancy our chances but the Australians are prone to collapse. In fact this series may be decided by who collapses less. I would have preferred Plunkett to Finn for the extra pace and ability to hit the cut strip.

    • I agreed – the rest of the squad will more than likely be a bit pi**ed off with Stokes’s antics, but to have the media saying England have no hope without him, must grate their bones.

  • Oh for the times when whistling was the only crime in town.

    Personally I think Root, Bairstow and Woakes are the only likely candidates to come out of the tour well. I think YJB, in particular will shine and, if it had been me, rather than the ECB and SKY’s joint decision over the next future captain, I’d have appointed him.

    Moeen a possibility too but I worry that he’ll be attacked (even harder) by the aussie batsmen to take him out of the attack now Stokes is missing.

    The rest? I hope I’m wrong/surprised.

    Btw Stokes is a tool isn’t he? A useful one in an England shirt at times, but always a tool.

  • England are pretty dire..

    However.. Australia are just as dire.

    Everything is equal really.. both sides only have two batsmen .. but… England have powerful lower order where as Aus don’t and Aus have the firepower .. England dont.

    I think it’ll actually be a series where it’ll come down to which side falls apart on the day. Both sides are poor and it’ll be a poor series but it will be close and it’ll be like white ball.. one side will collapse and lose.. just depends who collapses the least

      • Bull it up if you want as a great series and fantastic Cricket. Simple fact is both sides aren’t very good and it’ll be decided like white ball is.. winner will be the team who collapses the least .

        Still, people can crow about winning etc still and get drunk so they’ll be happy

  • Will someone explain to me how the Aussie batting order, no stronger than ours; take away Warner and Smith and what else of proven quality is there, is going to post match winning totals. Their openers will be a handful with the new ball, but what else of proven quality do they have? Is Lyon going to run through our batting, even on turning wickets? Is Cummings better than Woakes? Quicker is not necessarily better, even on Aussie pitches. Vince, Malan and Stoneman are not novices and know their games well, all of them being more comfortable of the back foot, so the Aussie conditions and length of their bowling should suit. This has to be a major plus. I see our prime weakness as the bowling behind the front 3 seamers, as we need to bowl them out twice. However they have to do the same and what ammunition do they have after the new ball is played off?
    There is no doubt, Stokes is an irreplaceable item, but the Aussies have no equivalent either. His bowling is yet to hit the heights if the ball doesn’t swing, so I think to compare his loss with the double wammy of Thorpe and Gough is over the top, it is his match changing batting that we will miss most. Fortunately we have Ali and Bairstow capable of playing in similar vein. We may get the odd hammering, but we are good enough not to be intimidated by this. Inconsistency is the calling card of this present side. I believe our best as a team Is as good as theirs. If the weather is kind I can see every match producing a result.

    • Good to see some optimism!

      Stokes is no Gough with the ball but he is capable of match winning spells, and I expected the Aussie crowds to take to him like they took to Goughie.

    • My worry is the opening bowlers (or, more specifically, Anderson). He was awful on the last tour, and his style doesn’t suit Australia, but he’s an automatic pick (understandably, given what he does elsewhere). My fear is he’ll not get many wickets.

      • Anderson is a better bowler than he was last Aussie tour. He seems to me to expect to get wickets now, rather than hope. This positivity communicates itself to the opposition. Broad is the worry. He seems to be largely ineffectual for long spells. Hopefully the extra bounce out there will help him cause more problems. Woakes is an intelligent bowler who knows his limitations and will always challenge batsmen with his nagging line and length.
        What bemuses me most is the assumption that Plunkett is a white ball specialist. He hits the deck, has good variations and seems to get wickets in all forms. To me he is an obvious choice ahead of the TRJ’s and Finn’s of this world every time.
        I see Ali as a stock bowler. Why Rashid isn’t out there is another conundrum. Blooding a young spinner on an Ashes tour bodes of desperation. Even the greatest of them all, Warne, took time to bed in.

  • Ali and Woakes are more than adequate Test 7 & 8. So if we had a decent top order Stokes wouldn’t be a huge miss. But we don’t, so he is.

  • Stoneman might come good down under… or might not. Cook will need to be a lot more consistent than he has been in recent years, and I can’t see it happening. He may not have a terrible winter, but I certainly can’t see him doing nearly enough for it be decisive. Vince at no. 3? Is there any good reason to think that’s likely to work out well? It might not make a lot of difference but I’d almost rather have Ballance at 3 (I said “almost”…) The squad so skillfully picked by our glorious and infallible selectors doesn’t really provide many options. However I really think it would strengthen the top order batting if Bairstow’s strongest suite were utilised fully and he played as a specialist batsman at no. 5. That way you could have Moeen at 6, Woakes at 7 and Ben Foakes as wicket keeper/potentially fairly useful lower middle order batter at 8. Dawid Malan could then be utilised in his strongest suite. Don’t knock it – carrying that big tray of drinks isn’t easy.
    I think the more effective bowling side will come out on top though. Which means that, unless badly hobbled by injuries, the Aussie attack operating in home conditions is probably going to win the Ashes and probably always was, regardless of Stokes or “Bruiser Ben” as I now think of him.

  • Stokes will be missed very badly… still remember his maiden century at Perth, he really announced his arrival in that test. four years later we are back to down under and things don’t look good for him and England either.

  • As usual the answer comes down to 2-3 players. Firstly, can we get a decent start batting? Assuming Cook is Cook, that means can we rely on Stoneman and whoever comes in at 3 to average at least high 30s? Secondly, does Woakes perform. This is relevant because he now assumes the role of pivot selection as the seamer all rounder. If he bowls well and provides batting strength down the order then England not only will be close to Australia but have many more options in selection.I suspect the 2/3 slots will be a big problem and Woakes will bat well and bowl ok – but this means a likely loss.

  • No man is bigger than the team. It’s a team game and far too much prominence has been given to a thug. Yes, I said thug. It’s downright insulting to the team to suggest that they’ve suddenly become emasculated. It might actually make them stronger. As to the relative strengths of England and Australia, it’s hard to call. I don’t see either side as particularly strong and I’ve made some poor predictions in the past. The series could well be decided by catching,

  • Before the Stokes incident I was picking an Aus win 3-1 or 3-2 as both teams had around 3 make-weights each, & I felt Aus bowling in home conditions would be superior. And I figured the score would be similar the other way if the series was in England..Anderson tends to struggle away from home, while in Lyon Aus have a spinner who takes wickets on Aussie pitches – Moeen tends to need a bit more help from the track

    Without Stokes I’m leaning towards 3-1 or 4-1 Aus – though if Steve Smith’s not fit then we’re back to evens.

    As an aside, Racing Metro & Tongan rugby international prop forward Ben Tameifuna was arrested in Paris the other day for assaulting a Racing team mate while out on the town. Which suggests that maybe any other New Zealand-born tattooed sportsmen named Ben should stay away from pubs after midnight …

    • Is the fact that they’re both “…New Zealand born” and have tattoos in some way significant? Do you feel it provides additional insight into what has happened? Stokes has lived in England since he was 12 and I don’t detect any Antipodean residue in his accent. Not that it would make any difference to anything if there were. Pretty sure we have tattoo parlours in this country, along with English-born hard men who like a drink.

      • Apologies mate. I found the coincidences (2 assault arrests, 5 days apart ,both NZ born, representing another country they qualify for by ancestry etc) interesting enough to make a feeble attempt at a joke. I’ll try to remember to add more wink smilies to make jokes more obvious in future

        And I’m heartily relieved that the All Black Ben Smith (arguably the best rugby fullback in the world) is (a) not tattooed and (b) taking the rest of the year off rugby on a “sabbatical” to spend time with his young family & rest up ahead of next season 😉 [again, that’s a joke – Ben Smith is close to the last NZ rugby player I’d expect to see in trouble with the law]

  • I don’t think he should tour, irrespective of police action. How will Strauss discipline anyone else’s if he’s going to let Stokes off lightly for that?

    Other players have been turfed out of the side for much less. Patel, Swann, Compton all spring to mind.

  • There is no doubt it’s going to be a huge loss. And personally I think he’ll miss the whole tour as even if the police take no action , England have to. He has to be made an example of.

    Anyway on to how we retain the ashes (remember we only need a draw), we simply have to be in the series come boxing day. Which means playing defensively. We cannot lose at Brisbane and need to find 450 runs in the 1st from somewhere. That means taking the gloves off Bairstow pushing him up to 4 and Root batting at 3. 5 goes to the one who scores runs in the warm ups out of the 3 squad batsmen. Then Ali, Woakes, Foakes and Overton.
    Stokes is our 4th best batsman and this worries me more than his 10 overs.

    Go to Adelaide level and our tails will be slightly up, the pink ball test could suit our attack and get us ahead. Then the pressure will be on the Aussies.
    That’s the plan…. The reality? Well I think Australia will tear into us at the Gabba and we will have to play out of our skins. People saying they are only Smith and Warner, well Kawajha, Renshaw & Handscombe showed a lot in the second half of the last Aussie summer. Nathan Lyon is a wonderful bowler and we know about their pace attack. I’m fearing the worst and it’ll take a lot to convince me otherwise.

    • Adelaide makes the series a lot harder to predict. I imagine it will be relatively low scoring and whoever has the best of conditions will probably win. If England’s luck is out on this tour, I’ll worry!

      Re: Nathan Lyon I think a lot of people over here are underestimating him. He’s not Warne but he’s a good bowler who is high up the world rankings these days.

      • Lyon is a bloody good cricketer. I’ve been told that he has a better bowling average than Anderson in all major cricketing countries except for England. Sadly I can’t confirm that as Cricinfo is still totally fucked on my computer.

  • I think Stokes will play a part in the tour,how much depends on the court and police situation. The ECB will be desperate for him to play.
    Myself, I am hoping Woakes comes to the fore as an international class all rounder. He has bags of ability and maybe being pushed into the limelight we will see him respond accordingly. He can be as good as Stokes.
    Australia at home have a huge advantage anyway, it is always tough to win away from home anywhere in the world.
    Will Anderson recover the reverse swing that deserted him on the last tour? Broad will bowl well. Ali will struggle with bat and ball. He doesn’t play the short ball well. Will Cook score runs consistently and not just the odd hundred. There’s too many variable in the England team with or without Stokes.
    My money is on Australia and the bookies money will be too. They don’t get it wrong that often.

  • Having reflected overnight, I think Woakes is the critical man, now.

    I think, irrespective of his bowling, he will do well with the bat. A man with a batting average of 32 is far too low batting at 9 (especially as Stoneman, Vince and Malan all average less (and Ballance averages loads less over the last 2 years))

    But is the bowling Chris Woakes the one who averages 63.75 away from home in Tests, or the one who dismanteled Pakistan in England last summer. (More worryingly, are they one and the same? The hope would be that Woakes today is a significantly better bowler than the one who took 2 wickets in 2 Tests in SA in 15/16. But is he?)

By James Morgan

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