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
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