Are England Too Reliant on All-Rounder Ben Stokes?
As he returns to cricket from compassionate leave spent with family in his native New Zealand, Ben Stokes has been an obvious miss for England. Quantifying how big is another matter.
That bittersweet summer of a Cricket World Cup triumph followed by his Headingley last stand in The Ashes that led to a rare drawn series, but the urn ultimately remaining with Australia, are now written large into English sporting folklore.
Those major moments have Stokes’s fingerprints all over them. Other players may have scored more with the bat as England lifted the World Cup, but he still made the tournament top 10 and chipped in with seven wickets. A top all-rounder to be sure.
Switching from limited overs to the Test arena and The Ashes, Stokes led with the bat from the middle order. No England player made more runs and only Australia’s Steve Smith scored a higher cumulative total over the five fiercely contested games than his 441.
Stokes smashed 13 sixes against the tourists and boasted a 2019 Ashes batting average that was fractionally better than 55 runs per innings. To put it into context, Smith’s was double that.
Right now, England haven’t won a Test since Stokes last pulled on the national whites, but that has more to do with a typically wet end to the British summer than his absence. When he was previously in the side, Pakistan were beaten with three wickets in hand.
Honours were then even in the T20 series against the Asian nation before victory over the old enemy Australia followed in the same format. When the sides met in three ODIs, England were never in front and lost 2-1 with the Baggy Greens chasing down 302.
Come this time next year, the selectors will be naming their Ashes tour party heading Down Under, and Stokes is obviously a lock for inclusion. Playing Australia’s neighbours New Zealand away in Test action was a chastening experience last winter for England, however.
They were humiliated by the Kiwis with an innings and 65 runs defeat in the opener. Without Stokes’s top score of 91, the embarrassment would have been considerably larger.
As his form has surged, others notably including fellow senior player and England skipper Joe Root’s notably dipped. In order to regain The Ashes out in Australia, the touring team cannot depend on Stokes alone.
Australia remain odds-on favourites to win the series on home soil with England 11/4 chances. Upsets can and do happen, but their recent record Down Under with or without Stokes does not make for good reading.
Batting and bowling in unfamiliar conditions on the other side of the world puts England up against it. They need everyone, not just Stokes whose contributions to the national team of late are there for all to see, to be in top form to stand any chance of reviving their fortunes in Australia.
There are still some 12 months for other players to nail down places and show head coach Chris Silverwood what they can bring to the table. All evidence suggests Stokes needs more support – the kind he got from Jack Leach for his Headingley heroics – when he plays for England next.
©Cricket World 2020