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England's Ashes tour has been one car cash after another but in Ben Stokes they have found a cricketer who should be with them for many years
December 19, 2013
It has long been a sporting cliché that sides can "take the positives" from even the most humbling defeat but there have been times on this Ashes tour when it would have taken a pack of sniffer dogs, a team of forensic scientists and Miss Marple at her most snoopy to find even a crumb of comfort in England's performances.
But, amid the rubble, one man has stood out. Ben Stokes has only played one fine innings but its quality and the context in which it was made marked him out as a player of outstanding potential.
While the cream of English batting curdled under the Perth sun, Stokes showed his class and his character in scoring a second innings century of unusual excellence. In a bad tempered series, it was heartening to see the Australian team abandon hostilities between the sides to offer their congratulations when he reached the landmark.
He's not the finished article. He is still, at present, a fourth rather than third seamer and there will be times, throughout his career possibly, when he infuriates with his shot selection. His first innings dismissal at Perth, wafting at a wide one, was almost as awful as his second innings century was wonderful. But such things must be expected of a young man at the start of his journey in the international game.
He is learning fast. A year or so ago, he was a quite rapid but quite unreliable bowler. He has improved his control and learned new tricks; his ability to reverse-swing the ball will be valuable around the world and, after his first innings dismissal in Perth, he was careful not to be drawn into poking at deliveries away from his body second time around.
The only worry - and it is a worry that extends far beyond Stokes - is that he will be exhausted before he has the time to develop to his peak. As an allrounder who is good in the field, he will be flogged in every format - IPL included - in every innings, up and down the country, round and round the world, until he is broken, jaded, cynical and rich. There's nothing wrong with that last word, of course. It's just it seems to be a predominant short-term priority that takes little heed of the long-term need for rest and relief. Players like Stokes are precious; it would be a shame to see their talents squandered in meaningless limited-overs series.
Stokes spoke to the media on Thursday. While he did not say much of particular note - at one stage he said "there's no 'I' in team"; you really shouldn't expect "I have a dream" from 22-year-old sportsmen - there was something deeply impressive about the way he conducted himself. He was confident, alm and he looked every journalist in the eye as he answered their question with that steely self-confidence which will serve him well. In Joe Root and Stokes, England might just have the foundations of a team that can, one day, make amends for their side's wretched performance in this Ashes series.
Stokes' strengths may, at times, be interpreted as weaknesses. His refusal to be intimidated by Mitchell Johnson on his debut in Adelaide earned him a call to the match referee's office after the game. It was subsequently agreed that any physical contact between the pair was accidental but Stokes' feistiness was noted with admiration by the members of both dressing rooms. Here, clearly, was a guy who will not back down in a fight.
|"I showed Andy Flower I wanted to play for England and get back into the fold and made sure I wanted to change his mind."|
The down side of that is that Stokes has sometimes got himself into trouble. He was arrested for "obstructing police" in December 2011 and then, in February of this year, he was sent home from the Lions tour of Australia for repeatedly indulging in late-night drinking.
At the time it appeared he may have compromised his international future but, after an excellent season for Durham - he claimed 44 first-class wickets and scored 726 first-class runs - he has emerged as one of the few allrounders capable of batting in the top six and holding down a role in a five-man bowling attack. He has also settled down, had his first child and generally embraced the lifestyle choices inherent in a career in professional sport.
"Andy Flower gave me another chance," Stokes said. "I think I showed him I wanted to play for England and get back into the fold and made sure I wanted to change his mind, if he had any negative views on me. But he gave me that second chance and I'm pretty thankful for that.
"Yes, I have grown up in the last year. I took a look at the bigger picture and realised we're icons, so you've got to be doing the right things on and off the pitch.
"I'd like to be the genuine allrounder. In the last two years, my bowling has come on a hell of a lot. With my batting, the consistency hasn't been there yet but I hope, with experience, everything will come together."
There will, no doubt, be some bumps on the road, but in Stokes England have a cricketer who should be with them for many years.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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