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 @ 10:35am
      BurgyGreen said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      England supposedly played their preferred batting lineup in the warm-up, so I’m guessing their team looks like this (assuming Moeen is fit):

      1. Cook
      2. Stoneman
      3. Vince
      4. Root
      5. Malan
      6. Mooen
      7. Bairstow
      8. Woakes
      9. Broad
      10. Overton
      11. Anderson

      Playing Vince is a big mistake, if I were them I’d be moving Root and Bairstow up the order and bringing Foakes in, who’s probably a better batsman than Vince anyway.

      The bowling attack looks very samey as expected and could be cannon fodder on flat wickets. Ball being injured could be a blessing in disguise as Overton looks like a far better bowler to me who can inject some pace into this side to cover for Stokes.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 12:09pm
        George said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        Vince’s selection for the tour is farcical. Even at #6 let alone first drop.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 12:16pm
        rtp said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        Is that right?

        Could they seriously have a Stokes a Woakes and a Foakes in their team?

        Lillee caught Willey bowled Dilley Villi Manilli.

      • Roar Guru

        November 13th 2017 @ 12:32pm
        Chris Kettlewell said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

        I think that’s pretty much what I’d be expecting. Ronan has stated England would most likely replace Stokes with a batsman. I think that having just 3 quicks plus Ali on Australian pitches looks a very weak bowling lineup. Since Ali is an allrounder already, and Woakes can bat okay, my general though, as expressed on this site many times, is that they are likely to pick the fourth fast bowler (probably giving Crane his debut instead of the fourth quick when they get to the SCG) which will then give them a more normal looking lineup, with 5 batsmen, one allrounder, one keeper and 4 bowlers. Having Stokes and Ali as two allrounders has allowed them to bat extra deep. I think they’ll lose that rather than go to only four real bowlers. Unless Root plans on bowling himself and Vince more than just the odd couple of overs here and there.

    • Roar Guru

      November 13th 2017 @ 10:42am
      Rellum said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      Settle in boys and girls for a long day, we have both QLD, Victoria and WA all hosting games. This is when we get to see the worst of the State run broadcasts. No commentators, probably no graphics, hopefully replays.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 10:50am
        Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        Open up a second page for the WACA game and stream the sound. You’ll get the commentary from good old Minno and the boys from SportFM.

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 11:02am
          Rellum said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          My God, QLD has interviews at the toss and graphics, and commentators. Well at least one commentator.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 12:28pm
          Rissole said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          It’s a pity they don’t sync up. Fortunately Minno can paint a picture with words.

          • November 13th 2017 @ 3:50pm
            Don Freo said | November 13th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

            When he finally gets them out.

            He gorgeously mutilates the language but there is no one on the planet that has a bad word to say about Colin Minson.

        • Roar Guru

          November 13th 2017 @ 9:02pm
          Rellum said | November 13th 2017 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

          Seems like CA might even be listen to us as they have now linked the Audio and video of the WA game today.

    • Roar Guru

      November 13th 2017 @ 11:33am
      Ryan H said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

      I really hope for the sake of the contest and the series that Stokes is able to get to Australia timely enough to play some part in the test series; but I remain doubtful. I’d imagine if there’s no case to answer he will be vaulted onto the first plane available, but who knows how long that might take.

      • November 13th 2017 @ 11:39am
        Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

        Ryan

        England will push us to our limit

        Beware the ides of March!

        Stokes should be sitting in a rough english jail penal system right now, not out drinking cider with those buddies.

        Also, did he get fined for teasing Peter Andre’s son? or was it that plastic woman, katie someone….fantastic plastic

    • November 13th 2017 @ 12:03pm
      Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

      Well with that duck goes Paines chances at test keeper

      Lets hope Wade doesnt make a pile of runs

      Renshaw, Matty Renshaw, uh oh, damn I wanted you to score big but now you have to battle out S MArsh for an opening spot

      • November 13th 2017 @ 1:26pm
        Curious George said | November 13th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        Wade Gone! for 5 paltry runs! Hopefully this will mean Carey or Bancroft can waltz into the Test side now 🙂

    • November 13th 2017 @ 12:30pm
      James said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

      Stokes replacement would also most likely be a much less reliable fieldsman.

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

      Stokes MVP: Most Valuable Puncher. Thanks, I’m here all week.

      He is irreplaceable for them and it remains to be seen whether their problems with Stokes and injuries will crush them or galvanise them. A lot depends on the captain, coach and wicket keeper to set the tone.

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