Ben Stokes can swing a cricket ball and also a bat, but we don’t need to be told that he isn’t Botham or Flintoff

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Photo by Sarah Ansell
Photos by Sarah Ansell

“We don’t want to say he’s going to be the next Botham, or the next Flintoff,” said Trevor Bayliss. England’s coach then veered away from an already painfully familiar statement somewhat by adding: “He’ll be the next Ben Stokes” – as if we’ve had one already.

Every time anyone says “he isn’t the next Botham” or “he isn’t the next Flintoff,” all they’re doing is reinforcing the idea that this is precisely what Ben Stokes is. He’s the next Botham AND the next Flintoff; the latest in a lineage of bombastic England all-rounders with a strangely overlooked patch where Tony Greig should be.

Of course Stokes isn’t the next Botham in the sense of being identical to him and liable to perform precisely the same feats. We’re not idiots. We know that. He hasn’t been bred in a tank using Beefy DNA and raised in an artificial reality in which he was given all the same experiences growing up. But like Botham, he hits the ball hard – like Flintoff too. And all three bowled fast-medium and had a reputation for enjoying a drink.

In many senses, this is what you’d expect. There are plenty of aggressive batsmen around, England produces fast-medium bowlers by the boatload and Mark Wood and Moeen Ali are the only two men in the current team who don’t drink.

Cricket - Investec Test Series 2015 - England v New Zealand - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England

It is quite an English archetype though. Australia produces more than its fair share of fast bowlers, leg-spinners and top quality batsmen, but the nation’s all-rounders are often a bit insipid. Maybe Mitchell Marsh will one day buck this trend, but at present he feels just a bit Shane Watson-ish – promising, but ultimately disappointing.

English all-rounders are different. The national side survives without one, but always seems to become a great deal stronger with one. They’ve now come along often enough that we should actually make some effort to distinguish between them rather than just parrotting the ‘not the new…’ line.

A striking development this weekend was Ben Stokes’ swing bowling. In, out, and moving the ball miles, it persuaded Trevor Bayliss to confusingly suggest that he could become ‘the next Jimmy Anderson’. Botham was of course an exceptional swing bowler (it’s perhaps the one topic on which he commentates well), while Flintoff wasn’t – although he was probably the most adept of the three at reverse swing.

If you saw Stokes eat a banana on Saturday, you’ll agree with Jarrod Kimber that Stokes does everything violently. At one point he retrieved his cap from the umpire with a huge downward swing of the arm, as if he was trying to slap through a block of wood with his bare hand. Violent swing appears to be the latest manifestation of this tendency.

You’ve kind of seen this thing before, but you also haven’t. He’s like Botham and Flintoff, but also different.


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  1. It seems we may never witness that magical moment of Stokes, Woakes and Foakes appearing in the same England team together.

    They are there in my head.

  2. I think Bayliss’ mention of Stokes as “potentially the next Anderson” was merely a coded message to Cook that Stokes should bowl more/in more appropriate situations.

    I have long said that I see Stokes’ early bowling career for England in the same way as I saw Freddie’s – a supremely talented bowler who was bowling without luck and/or just below the requisite standard to be a genuine wicket-taking prong of the attack.

    Freddie’s test bowling career looks, in stats, as though someone flicked a switch soon after Vaughan took over the test captaincy. But I recall sitting there in 2002 and 2003 thinking “why doesn’t this fella take wickets with the red ball, he’s that good?”

    Let’s hope that we saw Ben Stokes’ metaphorical switch at Trent Bridge.

    As for “the next Tony Grieg”, I think that might be young Ollie Robinson, formerly Yorkshire, now of Sussex and stepson of Paul Farbrace. Ollie impressed everyone who saw him at Lord’s this week. Not only can he bat and bowl, he can bowl both pace and off-spin; well. Only 21 and lots of development to do still in mind and body, but remember who mentioned him first here on King Cricket.

    1. Bert was at Middlesex v Sussex at Lord’s yesterday, as well as at the Edgbaston test on the Friday, yet he still didn’t come and see me?

      This is becoming a most unwelcome trend.

    2. Bert was at Middlesex v Sussex? Has this information been published on the site? We didn’t see it. Are you guys in real-world communication or something.

      This is a most unwelcome development, if so.

    3. I’m with you, KC. No bugger told me either. There was I, thinking I was enjoying a family holiday in Verona, when all along I was at Lord’s for the cricket. Well if that’s true, who has bitten me repeatedly and itchingly on the right foot several times? I need to know, it’s just not fair keeping these things from me.

    4. And another thing. I’m a little confused about what you mean by “the real world”. Do you mean this isn’t it?

  3. Before I besmirch his good name, I think I may have erred – how silly of me; he’d have said if he were there!

    PS. I barely communicate with those I know in real life, in real life, and so real communications with virtual people would be a step too far for me!

  4. So was the fellow who failed to make contact with me at Edgbaston and Lord’s the real Bert or Faux Bert?

    Is the Bert who has corresponded on this thread the real Bert or Faux Bert?

    Is this the real world or is Edgbaston and Lord’s the real world?

    In my personal experience, sitting here at my desk, corresponding on this site while trying to avoid finishing some dull work on a deadline, feels all too real. Mighty real.

    Whereas sitting at Edgbaston or Lord’s watching cricket feels blissful, almost surreal.

    1. Lord’s was real. I’ve yet to be convinced that the rest of this Ashes series isn’t a hallucination.

  5. According to John Buchanan, Australia lost because Michael Clarke failed to implement the Baggy Green Culture. This had been a problem with Clarke from his earliest days in the team:

    “I can remember guys like [Matthew] Hayden and [Justin] Langer sitting him down in a corner and trying to get him to understand what we were trying to achieve,” Buchanan said. “There were times when I felt Michael did not understand or did not want to understand.”

    Leaving aside the successful tactics and brilliance of John “let Shane bowl” Buchanan, I think I see the problem. Having Hayden explain anything to anyone isn’t a usual route to success, even for something easy, let alone the bizarre cloth fetishisation of that group of oddballs. If Matthew Hayden told me that grass was green, I would instinctively disbelieve him, once I’d worked out what he was saying (grass extensualises the visible execution of that set of skillsets that is best acknowledged by a deep feeling of the colour of my hat).

    1. Bert’s back.

      As in returned; this is manifestly the real Bert, not the Faux Bert.

      I’m not for one moment suggesting that Bert might have ankylosing spondylitis or anything like that.

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