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.