Ashes call­ing Why Pa­tel could be the an­swer to Eng­land’s prayers

Ex-in­ter­na­tional sees place for Not­ting­hamshire man Roland-Jones calls on ECB do more to avoid scan­dal

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Si­mon Briggs

Jonny Bairstow’s un­beaten hun­dred at the Rose Bowl on Fri­day night was largely over­shad­owed by the af­ter­shocks of the Ben Stokes af­fair. But it did point the way to­wards one pos­si­ble chink of light for Eng­land: the qual­ity of their all-rounders.

Many have de­scribed the Eng­land tour­ing party to Australia as one of the worst in liv­ing mem­ory, but it does con­tain seven play­ers of proven Test qual­ity, in­clud­ing three who can con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly in more than one dis­ci­pline: Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes. Should Stokes be un­avail­able, these three will surely have to pro­duce moun­tains of runs and dis­missals to plug the gap.

“I don’t think the guys from the Bris­tol video can go to Australia, to be hon­est,” said Nick Comp­ton, who played five of his 16 Tests along­side Stokes. “Of course Ben will be a huge loss, not only for his bat­ting and bowl­ing, but for his field­ing and char­ac­ter. He gives the side ag­gres­sion and a steely tough­ness and, for an Ashes se­ries, you need to be 20 or 30 per cent sharper than for an or­di­nary Test se­ries. Un­for­tu­nately play­ers like Stokes don’t fall out of trees, but you have to make do with what you have got. Eng­land are blessed with a few other all-rounders.

“Per­haps they are not quite as spe­cial as him, but Moeen, Woakes and Bairstow all score runs in­ter­na­tion­ally. They are out­stand­ing play­ers and they have a chance to be a mas­sive fac­tor in the se­ries.”

The trick for Eng­land will be to draw some­thing use­ful out of the four lesser­known names – pos­si­bly Mark Stone­man, James Vince, Gary Bal­lance and Dawid Malan. There may still be one more call-up, to fill the likely gap left open by Stokes, and Comp­ton sug­gests that Samit Pa­tel might be a left-field option – an­other all-rounder who could bowl half a dozen overs of left-arm spin in a day while pro­vid­ing counter-at­tack­ing runs from the mid­dle or­der.

Pa­tel has been largely ig­nored by Eng­land over the years. Former coach Andy Flower ef­fec­tively ex­com­mu­ni­cated him be­cause of his lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to fit­ness. Yet Comp­ton ar­gues that Trevor Bayliss – who did bring Pa­tel back for one Test in Shar­jah al­most two years ago – “is a less head­mas­terly fig­ure who is more in­ter­ested in your skills”.

He added: “I think Samit would be a very good re­place­ment. He could com­ple­ment Moeen, maybe take a wicket here or there, and if you give him a chance he is the kind of char­ac­ter who would rel­ish the big stage.”

What­ever the back-up op­tions, Eng­land with­out Stokes will still feel anaemic. His red-haired, red-blooded fe­roc­ity gives the side a dan­ger­ous edge – and it is surely this el­e­ment of his char­ac­ter that makes him so vul­ner­a­ble to off-field mishaps. If he wants to max­imise his sport­ing achieve­ments, he might look at David Warner, the Aus­tralian bats­man with a che­quered dis­ci­plinary record who has sworn off al­co­hol al­to­gether and trans­formed his whole life.

And what of the Eng­land man­age­ment’s role in this? While the in­com­ing MCC pres­i­dent Lord MacLau­rin told

The Sun­day Tele­graph that he has ev­ery con­fi­dence in the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board to deal with the fall­out, there is an ar­gu­ment that they should have been more proac­tive in avoid­ing this pot­hole in the first place.

In rugby, for in­stance, some teams are now care­ful to book out an en­tire pub when they want to cel­e­brate, plac­ing se­cu­rity men on the door. Only ap­proved guests are al­lowed in­side, and even then they are en­cour­aged to hand over their mo­bile phones to pre­vent them from tak­ing pho­tographs or videos. Such im­ages are apt to be­come in­deli­bly writ­ten upon the dig­i­tal record.

Un­flat­ter­ing im­ages of both Stokes and his late-night drink­ing part­ner Alex Hales – some of them dat­ing from 2012 or ear­lier – have been do­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia all week.

In an in­tel­li­gent in­ter­view on BBC Ra­dio Five Live, the Eng­land fast bowler Toby Roland-Jones sug­gested: “These days with phones, so­cial me­dia and the ac­cess that peo­ple have, at any time when you are in the public do­main you are there to be seen and recog­nised, par­tic­u­larly some­one as high­pro­file as Ben is in our sport.

“You want to be able to cel­e­brate at the right times but, also, it’s about find­ing a way of keeping an el­e­ment of con­trol when you are in the public eye, and know­ing that ev­ery action can have a reper­cus­sion. It is some­thing for the guys these days to get used to, and it will take a bit of un­der­stand­ing and po­ten­tially a bit of learn­ing from the pow­ers-that-be to make sure guys are ready for that.”

The Bris­tol video has caused sig­nif­i­cant dam­age both to the im­age of cricket and of Stokes him­self, re­in­forc­ing the pop­u­lar im­age of him as a brash young punk who just hap­pens to have a nat­u­ral knack for ball games.

He is clearly a man of action more than words, hav­ing spent his teenage years in the small Cum­brian town of Cock­er­mouth, where his fa­ther Ged – a former New Zealand rugby league in­ter­na­tional – worked as a coach for the local team. But you do not be­come a world-class crick­eter in all three for­mats with­out un­der­stand­ing the game and adapt­ing in­tel­li­gently to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

“The stereo­type would be of some­one who just goes out there and gives it a whack,” said Comp­ton. “But I haven’t met many peo­ple who train harder. Ben uses video anal­y­sis, thinks about his game and pre­pares very thor­oughly. He is a con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional, and his achieve­ments haven’t come by chance.

“As for the wider is­sues, I don’t think there’s a booze is­sue in the Eng­land team. I think peo­ple can over­re­act. You see trou­ble in town cen­tres ev­ery night of the week. Ben was given re­spon­si­bil­ity and he messed up.

“Yes, he’s a role model and there has to be some con­se­quences. But let’s not take it too far.”

‘I don’t think there’s a booze is­sue with Eng­land. Ben was given re­spon­si­bil­ity and he messed up’

Brawn and brains: Ben Stokes brings pas­sion and ag­gres­sion, but al­lied to a deep un­der­stand­ing of the game in all three for­mats

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