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Ben Stokes is England’s Ashes MVP

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Ben Stokes was England’s best player when they lost 5-0 in Australia four years ago as their highest runscorer and leading wicket-taker over the four Tests he played.

    That was in his debut Test series, and since then Stokes has improved massively as a cricketer to the point he is now arguably as important to England as their captain and best batsman, Joe Root.

    If that strikes you as an extravagant claim, consider that over the past two calendar years Stokes has averaged 45 with the bat and 28 with the ball in Tests. He has been two players in one over that period – a prolific top-six batsman and a highly effective pace bowler.

    Punctuating his 19 Tests during that time are a cluster of truly commanding performances with both bat and ball. Most famously Stokes blasted 258 from 198 balls against South Africa in Capetown, rescuing England from a poor position at 5-223.

    (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    A few Tests later, in Bangladesh, Stokes produced a very different but equally important knock. He saved England from a likely defeat by scoring a gritty 85 on a turning deck in the second innings after his team had collapsed to 5-62. He topped off this man-of-the-match performance with six wickets.

    The next month, in India, Stokes grafted to 128 in the first Test, made 70 in the second Test and took a five-for in the third match. Then, in England’s just-completed home summer, Stokes scored two tons as well as an extraordinary haul of 6-22 against the West Indies.

    As a batsman, Stokes has shown the ability to either vaporise an opponent when England are on top or haul his team out of the flames. With the ball, he has become a man Root regularly turns to when he needs to conjure a wicket. Then there’s Stokes’ bravado, a character trait which is easily lampooned and derided but one which can be crucial to a cricket team, energising teammates when they are flat.

    There has been a lot of analysis about how England will try to maintain the balance of their line-up if Stokes does not play in the Ashes due to his alleged involvement in a street brawl. They will essentially lose both a specialist batsman and a frontline bowler.

    What appears most likely is that England will replace Stokes with a batsman, either James Vince or Gary Ballance.

    (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

    The issue then is that not only do England lose Stokes’ potent bowling but he’s also replaced by a significantly lesser batsman. Vince has averaged just 19 with the bat in his seven Tests despite all of them being played at home against the ordinary bowling attacks of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

    Ballance, meanwhile, made an extraordinary start to his Test career, piling up 1019 runs at 68 in his first ten Tests. Since then, he has floundered, averaging just 19 from his past 13 Tests despite ten of those matches being in England. So during roughly the same period Stokes averaged 45 across all conditions, his potential replacements averaged less than half that despite playing most or all of their cricket at home.

    If either of them play in the Ashes and Stokes misses out, I would expect that trend to continue and for them to average in the Ashes about half what Stokes would. Now, a mathematician I am not, but to me that means that should Stokes not play, England will have lost one bowler as well as half a batsman.

    To further underline the value of Stokes in this Ashes, bear in mind he is the only cricketer in the England squad who has a better Test record away than at home. Stokes averages 36 with the bat and 32 with the ball away from home, including three tons and two five-fors. The ability to excel on the road is exceedingly rare among modern Test cricketers.

    To lose such a player in an Ashes series in Australia would cripple England.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • November 13th 2017 @ 6:59am
      Not so super said | November 13th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      Still averages 35 with the bat and 31 with the ball
      Neither is good enough

      • November 13th 2017 @ 7:54am
        George said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        Yeah you’re right! England should totally leave him out for form reasons.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 8:17am
        Jeffrey Dun said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        Perhaps his averages against Australia are more relevant here, and they are nothing special.

        He has taken 26 ashes wickets at 33 and scored 480 runs at 30.

        What is interesting though is that his best ashes bowling and batting performances have been in Australia.

        His highest score of 120 was made at the WACA while his best bowling performance of 6/99 was at the SCG (first innings).

        This suggest that Stokes is more suited to Australian conditions than those of England. If so, his absence will certainly hurt England more than his overall averages suggest.

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 9:07am
          Chris Kettlewell said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

          Not necessarily. It was his test debut, players sometimes start well before dropping off a bit. So it’s hard to define too much based on that one series.

          But also, while Ronan points out that he was England’s top run scorer and wicket taker in the 4 tests he played, that was mostly because the rest of the team did so incredibly poorly. Stokes averaged 34 with the bat in that series, he scored one century which was his only score over 50 in his 8 innings. That would generally be considered an okay start that could be built on to perhaps be a solid test cricketer, not an incredible start. The reason it stands out is simply because of how incredibly poorly his team mates did in that series. That one century was the only one scored by an Englishman in the series compared to 10 scored by Australians with Bailey the only failure in the top 7.

          Australia had 6 batsmen who scored more runs than England’s top run-scorer in that series (KP was top across the 5 tests, followed by Carberry and then Stokes who only played the 4 tests).

          Meanwhile, Broad was the only England bowler to do any good at all.

          So with the carnage that went on, his semi-decent start to his test career was made to look a lot more stellar than it probably was.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 9:45am
        spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Pah, that’s significantly better than any other all-rounder in the game.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 9:53am
          Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          Mitch Starcs bating and bowling averages…both at 28…give him a run for his money.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 2:11pm
            Mike Dugg said | November 13th 2017 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

            Mitch is not an all rounder. Bowler who bats a bit.

            • November 13th 2017 @ 3:55pm
              Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

              No less, Mike, than Stokes is a batter who bowls.

              Their numbers are quite similar. The number say that Starc is an all rounder…or that Stokes is a batsman who bowls.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 10:55am
          Targa said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Shakib Al Hasan?
          Ravi Ashwin?

          • Columnist

            November 13th 2017 @ 5:04pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | November 13th 2017 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

            Shakib and Ashwin are the best Test all-rounders in the world in Asian conditions but I’d take Stokes for Tests played outside Asia.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 13th 2017 @ 7:43am
      savage said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      Stokes arguably been been best player for england in Australia,India,South Africa and Bangladesh.He is by far best all rounder in the world in terms of versatilty.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 7:48am
      Brasstax said | November 13th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Stokes will play at least 2 tests and it will be a closely fought series with the margin of victory being 1 test. What will surely not happen is us rolling them over 5-0. We simply have too weak a middle order/wk and a poor captain for that to happen.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am
      Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

      Ronan and others:

      When will the Australian squad be announced?

      Do the selectors realise the 1st test is in 10 days time?

      No time to prepare as a team at all once this round of shield is over. what a joke

      I heard they will announce it this Friday. So basically a handful of days to get to brisbane and train. for shame.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 9:10am
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        Funny, I hear most people talking like announcing the team before the very end of this shield round is ridiculous, you’ve gone for the opposite.

        This is cricket, not football, they don’t need to get together and work on set plays and interactions and things. So you don’t actually need to be playing together in training camp for a while before the match and things like you’d want with a national team in any football code or things like that. Playing in separate first class matches around the place and then coming together 4-5 days before the test is totally fine.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 9:23am
          Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          Rightio Chris, so do you think that the squad will be announced on Friday this week then?

          Or Thursday evening following the end of the Shield round.

          Can I get your thoughts on 6 and 7 (keeper) before the start of Round 3

          My pick is Cartwright and Bancroft but in reality it will be Maxwell and Wade.

          As such if it is those picks we will be in all sorts of trouble regularly.

          “Give maxi a go! He is owed it!” I hear decreed and cried from the town walls and in the piper tower.

          “He is a good bloke” screams Warnie and the Ashes ghosts of the past in the parlour room.

          He is owed not a darn thing. This is cricket.

          • Roar Guru

            November 13th 2017 @ 12:25pm
            Chris Kettlewell said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

            I actually don’t know when the squad will be announced. I’ve heard people suggest it will be around day 3 of the next shield round. Not waiting until the end. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick a squad with one or two extra players that’s then culled after that Shield round finishes if they are still not 100% sure on anything.

            My personal thoughts?

            For the keeper, I would be tempted to take a punt on Bancroft. I think any of the prospective keepers presents a risk, and I don’t think Bancroft is any less a risk than anyone. He was really neat behind the stumps in the last shield round, and even after keeping for 2 innings and carrying his bat through the first innings, still seemed almost fresh towards the end of his second innings. So physically I think he’s fine to keep through entire test matches. I don’t particularly like any of the keeping options, but having to go for a choice between the bad choices I’d be tempted to go that way.

            For the number 6 spot, I think both Cartwright and Maxwell have been given some chance there, and done well enough in the limited chances to deserve at least a few more tests. So to an extent either would be a bit hard done by to miss out. So I think I would probably stick to one of those two rather than go for a “bolter” for the number 6 spot. I’m still a bit torn on which one. Again, both have made some case for the spot, but both are reasonably weak cases. There is no clear stand-out and to some extent both can lay claim to being “incumbent” and being that incumbent they should get the chance to start this series.

            Maxwell infuriates me a bit like Mitch Johnson used to prior to his awesome comeback in that 5-0 Ashes. That is, you know they are capable of being amazing, but they do it way too infrequently.

            • November 13th 2017 @ 1:20pm
              Pope Paul VII said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

              Squad announced Friday Chris.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 9:40am
          Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

          The Curious One has had that same answer a few times now from different people in different articles.

          He must think it is a winning argument.

          George! Pay attention to the answer. The question you ask is the “joke”.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 9:43am
            Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:43am | ! Report

            So Don, who is your 6 and 7 for the GABBA then?

            S. Marsh and Bancroft?

            I could easily live with that scenario.

            • November 13th 2017 @ 9:51am
              Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

              So could I…but I see no reason why Glenn Maxwell wouldn’t be #6.

              This round of Shield games will clarify the keeper. Just as well they haven’t followed you theory and picked the team already.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:18am
                Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

                Don, who is your thinking for keeper then?

                Bancroft or Nevill?

              • November 13th 2017 @ 10:47am
                Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

                I just answered that.

                If they all play well, I’d say Carey.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 11:17am
                Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

                Thanks Don

                Perth Boyz 4 life

                See you at the Little Creatures Pump House in Freo sometime after the blustering autmn buddy

                Have a good one chum

              • Roar Guru

                November 13th 2017 @ 12:26pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

                Don, that’s a pretty big IF there! So far it’s pretty much been a case of none of them playing well. Hence the big issue.

              • November 13th 2017 @ 3:48pm
                Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

                Surely after Wade’s 5th fold in 5 innings today, it is only a choice between Nevill, Carey and Bancroft.

                George Bailey is making a last minute reminder.

              • November 14th 2017 @ 12:38am
                TheCunningLinguistic said | November 14th 2017 @ 12:38am | ! Report

                I’m thinking (and hoping) they will take a punt on Bancroft as keeper/opener. It’s a big call, but I don’t think he’d let them down.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 10:22am
        millazzzz said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        What are you talking about? The best way to prepare for a game of cricket is to play cricket. We know that the bowlers are resting there fragile backs, but batsmen getting time in the middle in the shield is a lot more of a valuable use of time then having them attending team meetings and facing net bowlers for the next week.
        These guys are professionals and have all played together many times and as we all know, Cricket is a team sport played by individuals. It’s not like they have to practice set fielding plays or anything…

    • November 13th 2017 @ 9:27am
      paul said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      The basic premise of this article is 100% correct, regardless of his stats. Stokes is seen as the “go to” guy in this side for all the reasons outlined by Ronan. If he is not playing, England will be down not only a bowler, but probably the guy most likely to consistently trouble our guys – Broad and Anderson will have their moments, but if the Test tracks this year are the same as they were last year, only Stokes would be a real ongoing concern.

      His batting right now is in a better place than either of his likely replacements. It doesn’t matter whether these figures are inflated or what ever, the fact is he’s averaging well above both Vince and Ballantine in Tests. In addition, he’s no mug in the field.

      If he plays, England has a chance to win the series, assuming he plays true to form. Without him, they might win a Test but won’t win the series.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:58pm
        JimmyB said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        “In addition, he’s no mug in the field.”
        Well quite, in fact I’d go as far to say that he’s the best fielder in the world right now.

    • November 13th 2017 @ 9:47am
      spruce moose said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      I’m guessing crayons are what you need george…

      How many times do you ask this question and receive the same answers from the sane posters?

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