The Ashes 2013-14 December 19, 2013

Stokes stands out amid the rubble

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

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on December 24, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Well one thing he shares with Freddy Flintoff...they both like a night out on town. Hopefully there will be no Pedalo incident this time around :-)

  • Alastair on December 22, 2013, 6:00 GMT

    Test cricket is often not about talent. It is often about mental toughness though. England badly need more players like Stokes and Broad. Aggressive, combative, not willing to just give up. They should employ Lleyton Hewitt as their next coach. He at least knows how to keep battling no matter what the odds. England need to learn how to go down fighting - it doesn't matter if you lose, but it's how you lose.

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2013, 19:45 GMT

    Will be interesting to see how the two Christchurch born all rounders, Ben Stokes and Corey Anderson, develop over the next few years. They are essentially the same age and have both played just a few international games but both look like they could cement places as no 6 in their respective teams. At this stage Stokes looks like the better batsman and Anderson with the ball.

  • Mark on December 21, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    Thankyou Justin Cotton for validating my point!

  • Cameron on December 21, 2013, 8:23 GMT

    He looks good but he did have a streaky innings. Let's give him a bit of ime to get into it.

  • Dummy4 on December 21, 2013, 6:53 GMT

    That'd be right. The ex pat Kiwi is the only one playing with any ticker.

  • Cyril on December 20, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    I had a brief chat with Ben Stokes last summer at The Oval after an abandoned YB40 match. Ben had been injured taking a superb diving catch and had been taken to hospital, with fears of a serious neck injury. He returned as we were leaving, but as he hobbled to the players entrance from the ambulance in the pouring rain, I caught his eye. I expected him to be a bit of a knob, after reading about his indiscretions on the Lions tour that winter. How wrong I was! What a thoroughly nice man and a bloody good cricketer. He played the next four days of the subsequent Championship match and played very well.

    What sets him apart other than his attitude is his actual ability. The boy can bowl quickly and bowl longish spells. He can also bat aggressively. His batting is far superior to Flintoff's, his bowling has the potential to be almost as effective (not equal or better). Not Ian Botham (but who is?), but if Prior and Pietersen quit, Stokes is in and not going anywhere for a long time.

  • Sanjay on December 20, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding: If you study Imran Khan's career closely, he too only spent a few years where he was at the top of his game as both a batter and bowler. For the majority of his career, he was a fast bowler who batted very low in the order, often at 8/9 and contributed little with the bat despite his batting ability.

    After his stress fracture of the shins, sometime around late 1983, he became an exclusive batsman, often at 4/5, who occasionally bowled, this continued right thru to the end of his career. The period where he batted around 6/7, made useful runs and was at the top of his bowling game is shorter than most people realise.

  • Mark on December 20, 2013, 10:20 GMT

    @Darren Cook, well said but far too many people comment on these pages without checking the facts. Quite how someone who has lived in England since 11 can be the product of another country is beyond me. It is also funny that these comments only come up when the subject has done well! Has anyone else noticed how many anti England commentators on here have not been questioning Prior's nationality these last few months?

  • a on December 20, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    A few posts doing down Bresnan a bit. He did ok in Perth and must remember he took a while to get up to speed when coming back from injury last time. Englands bowling attack has not looked great but in mitigation they have spent most of the time in the field due to many of their batters playing like muppets. Anderson upped the pace to 90 at Perth but still got smacked around - he is struggling to get movement with Kookaburra especially on these pitches. What summed up the weakness of Englands strategy for me though was that they know that knew 2 of the first 3 pitches would be fast but not especially conducive to seam movement - that meant they needed either someone exceptionally quick or at least - like Rankin or Finn - quickish plus awkward due to height. Both took wickets in the warm ups but were left out in favour of a low 80s bowler (Tremlett).

    As for Stokes I hope that England dont tire him out with heavy bowling load.

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