England must protect Stokes from burn-out, says Michael Vaughan
Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, has warned that Ben Stokes risks burn-out if England heap too many expectations on to his shoulders during the forthcoming Test tour of India. However, he also reckons that getting the ball out of Stokes' hand in the big moments of the series will prove to be a management challenge for Alastair Cook.
Stokes was England's outstanding player during the 1-1 series draw with Bangladesh last month, especially during the first Test at Chittagong where he almost single-handedly hauled England to a 22-run victory. His total of 103 runs included a vital second-innings 85, while his six wickets in the match featured a key spell of reverse swing in Bangladesh's first innings as he claimed 4 for 10 to secure a priceless first-innings lead.
Throughout the two matches it was notable how Cook, a naturally conservative captain, turned to his seam bowlers in times of strife, especially given how little control he was able to exert with his spin attack. Stokes fronted up admirably with 11 wickets from 48.3 overs in the series - fewer than the first-choice spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, but more than any of the other quicks on show.
However, he appeared to be hobbling when he came out to bat in England's second innings at Dhaka and, with five Tests to come in the space of six weeks in India, Vaughan believes that Stokes may have to be protected from himself if England are to get full value from their most precious asset.
"Stokes has got that ability to get in the opposing team's faces with expertise," Vaughan said during the launch of BT Sport's cricket coverage. "Many players have tried to wind up the opposition by being forceful and aggressive without having the game [to back it up] but, with Stokes, you just know, every time he goes to the crease, things are going to happen.
"I think the problem that Alastair will have is getting the ball out of his hands. He wants to bowl, he wants to compete - speak to Paul Collingwood, he bowls marathon spells for Durham, 16-17 overs - and he's got that ability to produce magic with the old ball.
"And even when he's bowled badly, and sprayed the ball all over the place, he's always created opportunities. Beefy Botham took a lot of wickets with long-hops and Ben Stokes is very similar, because he's got that physical presence out in the middle. He does intimidate opposition batsmen, so he will create opportunities."
Vaughan sees inevitable parallels with England's last genuine allrounder, Andrew Flintoff, whom he captained throughout the prime of his career from 2003 to 2006. And, like Flintoff, Stokes has already shown that his body may be vulnerable to the workload that he puts upon it, having undergone knee surgery early in the English season, before missing the final two Tests of Pakistan series with a calf tear.
"The real question is injury," Vaughan said. "We saw in the summer against Pakistan, he missed the two Tests that England lost [at Lord's and The Oval]. The Chittagong Test win was 22 runs … without Ben Stokes England would have lost.
"Many would say as a captain, did you go to bed at night and not sleep because of the toss or opposing team. No, the one thing that Cook will be saying at night is: 'Please, Ben Stokes, don't get injured' because he's that important to the team."
Like Flintoff, Stokes' has a larger-than-life personality that can, on occasions, get him into scrapes. He was infamously sent home from England Lions' tour of Australia in 2012-13 for persistently breaking the team curfew, and ruled himself out of the World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014 after punching a locker during a poor run of form during the ODI tour of the Caribbean.
But Vaughan believes that Stokes' exploits in recent months have shown a different side to his character. "He's a quick learner and I think people possibly don't see the amount of work he puts in. He's a free spirit, and every now and again he will be talked about for doing the wrong things - punching a dressing-room door, partying too hard - but he wants to learn and get better, and I can only see that he is going to get better.
"They will have to be wary of the amount of bowling he does in India, but he's the kind of guy who wants to be in the game. I remember Duncan Fletcher used to say to the team, 'get in the game'. If the game is flat, do something.
"That's the kind of player he is. Whatever the situation, you are looking at him and he's in the game. Whether at backward point, or on the drive, or with the ball in hand, or striding out to bat. You just know things are going to happen."
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Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket