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UK View: Stokes an 'untamed rebel who's too stubborn' and Springsteen concert that showed why Pat's the Boss

21st June, 2023
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21st June, 2023
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There’s usually nothing better after a magnificent Ashes win than to luxuriate in a long session of schadenfreude via the apoplectic rage of the UK media. But today something is not quite right.

Yes, we can find delight in remembering Ollie Robinson’s barbed comments about Australia having “three No.11s” – has an Ashes sledge ever backfired so deliciously?- after Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon carried the Aussies home in Edgbaston.

Ben Stokes’ decision to declare on day one, the shocking display from Jonny Bairstow and the travails of poor Moeen Ali, contributed to England’s demise and were well noted by the UK media in the wash up. But the fallout has differed from standard procedure and shown an admirable trend towards perspective.

Oliver Holt, in the Daily Mail, summed up the mood.

“This was just the first Test but it carried enough magic in its five days to last for an entire summer. Some people may tell you only of mistakes that were made or decisions that backfired or catches that were dropped but do not listen to them because this game was about glory,” Holt wrote.

“It was about glory and both teams’ lust for it. It was about England’s daring and it was about Australia’s resilience. It was about England’s determination to seize the game and Australia’s utter refusal to bow to them. It was about the beauty of Bazball and Australia’s defiance of it.”

England's Ollie Robinson celebrates after taking the wicket of Australia's Usman Khawaja (not pictured) during day three of the first Ashes test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham. Picture date: Sunday June 18, 2023. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

England’s Ollie Robinson celebrates after taking the wicket of Australia’s Usman Khawaja. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

Stokes said after the match that losing “sucks”, but he did his best not to show it.

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“It was interesting to watch England in the moments after Pat Cummins hit the winning runs,”observed Andy Bull in the Guardian.

“They didn’t look, or act, like a team who had just lost a game that they probably should have won. Stokes even seemed to be smiling. He slapped Cummins on the back, and wrapped a couple of his teammates up in a hug. England lost one of the most memorable, and entertaining, games of cricket played in this country in a long while, and are now 1-0 down in the series. But, hell, there are four more still to play and, Stokes will be pleased to know, the Met Office is indeed forecasting that the sun will be out tomorrow.”

Jonathan Liew in the Guardian suggested that England were unlucky, but also that Bazball might have distracted them.

“England lost the battle of ideas, but they also lost the battle of the breaks. The rain on the third afternoon came and went at the worst possible time for them, a key period during which Australia claimed both their openers. The fast, flat pitch Ben Stokes ordered was, quite frankly, a mess. The only way of prising out wickets on it was through big turn, big pace or a litany of batting errors. As the margins tightened in the final session, with Moeen Ali failing to appear after the tea break, it became clear they had none of them,” Liew wrote.

“So what do you do? You have to reach for the bag of mystery intangibles. Ollie Robinson’s glare. Stuart Broad pumping up the crowd. Field settings that look more like interview panels. Funky choices, such as Joe Root bowling 13 overs in a row or deciding not to take the new ball until it is too late.

“Often Australia would succumb to the showmanship: Cameron Green and Alex Carey played silly shots to get out. Stokes, trudging in with the old ball to bowl his little 81mph lozenges, cleaned up Khawaja with a brilliantly disguised leg-cutter. But over a long enough x-axis, the arc of Ashes cricket bends towards logic. England had precious little of it when it mattered most.”

Oliver Brown, in the Telegraph, felt some self-reflection from Stokes might be appropriate and went further than any at rolling out some indignation at the defeat.

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“From the first moments of this spellbinding five-act play to the last, Stokes embodied both the genius and the recklessness of Bazball,” wrote Brown.

“It was his solemn commitment to entertain that emboldened Zak Crawley to lash the opening ball of the Ashes for four, and Joe Root to ignite the fourth day with an absurd attempt at reverse-ramping Pat Cummins.

“But it was also his hot-headedness that produced England’s less enlightened decisions of this Test: The bizarre first-day declaration before they had even reached 400, the cavalier fashion in which his top-order batsmen gifted their wickets in the second innings, plus the wacky final-day field placements when they had their chance to put Australia to the sword.

“As the leader, Stokes will have no time for all the grumbling Captain Hindsights seeking to second-guess him. It is a tenet of his philosophy that there should be no postmortems or recriminations. He unabashedly trusts his first impulses, and if these turn out to be misplaced, so be it. It signifies quite the sea change from the days when England would be frightened of their own shadows. But you do begin to wonder, after a churning, see-sawing climax to this first Test, if it is a judicious way to negotiate a 6½-week Ashes series.”

Brown said it was on “these margin calls that Stokes has staked his reputation.

Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Ben Stokes of England during Day Four of the LV= Insurance Ashes 1st Test match between England and Australia at Edgbaston on June 19, 2023 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates after taking the wicket of Ben Stokes. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

“He prides himself on staying impervious to pressure while everyone watching is curled up in the foetal position with stress. When asked if he had any regrets about the funky declaration, the answer, predictably, was a flat no. While staying true to your principles is a core element of captaincy, it can, when stretched to its farthest extreme, start to look like wilful obstinacy.

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“And the cold reality is that Bazball, or Benball, or whatever trendy sobriquet you choose, could do with being dialled down a notch.”

Brown also moved to dispel a myth – or at least a narrative thread – that “only England know how to enjoy themselves.”

“At the end of that unforgettable first day, when Stokes was being lauded to the skies for his audacity, Cummins could be found at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Villa Park, oblivious to all the fuss across town. What distinguishes him is that he also understands how to leaven his wilder impulses with restraint, with a measure of cool, deliberate calculation. It is this art that so far eludes Stokes, an untamed rebel sometimes too stubborn for his own good,” Brown wrote.

Over at The Times, former England captain Michael Atherton poured praise on Australia’s captain.

“Australia had the last word. There are many different roads to take in Test cricket, the one well-trodden as well as the one less travelled, and after sticking to their guns with a tried and tested method in the face of England’s all-out aggression, Australia won a pulsating match by the finest of margins,” wrote Atherton.

“Edgbaston 2023, a brilliant, absorbing Test will be inked into the history books as a classic.”

He said Cummins had come out on top in the battle of the skippers, adding “for once in the over-my-dead-body, never-say-die stakes, Stokes had found his match” faced with the “broad-shouldered and full of belief, Cummins”.

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But Atherton, too, could see plenty of light.

“What should not be forgotten was that England played some brilliant cricket in this game, making the running against the world champions, and almost breaking them in the process,” he said.

“It is impossible to know what an alternative narrative would look like, but what cannot be doubted is the wholehearted way England threw themselves into the contest. They should be confident of testing Australia again.”

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