Ben Stokes was suspended from international cricket while the Crown Prosecution Service decided whether or not to press charges relating to the Bristol scuffle. Now that they have decided to charge him, he’s once again become eligible for selection.
We have no real opinion on whether or not Stokes should still be suspended, but we do find the way things have panned out slightly bizarre.
It’s almost as if the England management somewhat arbitrarily postponed making a decision until the next phase of the legal process and then took the one they wanted to take all along because they felt like it had been a while and things had maybe died down a bit.
If you’re indicted for war crimes, “But they started it!” is not a particularly weighty defence – even if it’s true.
It’s some way down the scale, but the same principle still holds true with Ben Stokes. Today’s confirmation that he was defending two gay men when he rained all those punches down on a pair of fellas in Bristol doesn’t really change anything.
Why it happened doesn’t change what happened. We (somehow) covered exactly this yesterday. It’s entirely possible to do wrong even when you start off in the right.
“Towards the end of the fight it all got a bit scary so we walked off,” said Kai Barry, who clearly didn’t need too much defending by that point. “It was too much for me and we went to Quigley’s takeaway for chicken burgers and cheesy chips.”
If only Stokes had done the same.
Kai knows that if you’re going to step in and fight for the forces of good in every conflict you come across, you’re in for a long night. “If you ever see fights, you let it pass. It’s just Bristol town. You see it every night you go out,” he said.
These latest revelations are so staggeringly unimportant in the grand scheme of things that we were at least hoping to end this article by bringing you a little bit of insight into the offerings from Quigley’s takeaway. Sadly, our Bristol correspondent didn’t manage to get back to us before our deadline, so we can’t even give you that.
The facts are these. Splice and dice them as you see fit.
Our reading of this is that England’s premier one-day opening batsman is pursuing a new career in law enforcement with Avon and Somerset Constabulary. There may also have been a thing with Ben Stokes, but it’s almost impossible to deduce what might have happened with that from these scant details.
But let’s imagine for a minute that Stokes was shit-faced and lamped a fella. You know, hypothetically speaking.
Like all England players Ben Stokes knows not to cross the line. That is something that is inculcated in all who wear the three lions – accurate location of and respect for the line. At the same time, he’s a passionate sort of human being and he wears his heart on his sleeve. You wouldn’t want him to lose that passion now, would you? Where would that leave him?
‘Not under investigation for causing actual bodily harm’ you might answer. Well, maybe, but he needs that edge, doesn’t he? Needs it. That’s what makes him great, right?
In the unlikely event that the above reading of events should prove to be correct, then based on this and previous “incidents” we have another conclusion to put forward.
It is this: Ben Stokes is a bit of a lightweight and entirely incapable of handling his drink.
So said Michael Vaughan after Cook had shelled an easy one early on. Where has he been looking? We’ve always felt like he drops a fair few – although maybe not by Vaughan’s own almost criminally low catching standards.
We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Cook’s a bad slip fielder. If we were called upon to deliver a one-word appraisal of his ability, we’d go with ‘serviceable’.
Maybe people have now seen him catch so many that they forget all the misses and assume he’s some sort of bucket-handed Flintoff figure. He’s not though – and it’s not just a feeling.
When Charles Davis counted up all the drops in Test cricket from 2000 to 2016, no non-wicketkeeper had dropped more than Cook. If plenty were perfectly forgiveable short leg snatches, the opener was nevertheless responsible for 62 non-catches in that time. Vaughan must have seen at least a couple of these. He was Cook’s captain in 18 Tests, after all.
Fortunately for Cook, England’s bowlers created a veritable barrage of opportunities on day one at Lord’s which allowed him to secure his 152nd and 153rd catches by the end of the day. (If you feel moved to compare that with the incomplete tally of Cook drops above, it’s worth knowing that around a quarter of chances are grassed in Test cricket.)
Ben Stokes, in particular, made even jaded old seen-it-alls leak oooohs, such was the swing he mustered. The misses were so near and so frequent that at one point even the umpire did a sharp intake of breath and a ‘how did that miss?’ face.
It was all rather glorious for England until the West Indies came out and did exactly the same thing only without dropping any.
Kevin Pietersen’s career strike-rate was 61.72. Matthew Hayden’s was 60.10. For all that these are batsmen with a reputation for intimidating bowlers, they chose their moments.
This is a large part of the art of Test match batting. It’s about letting bowlers know that you are willing to hit them for four.
Once they’re aware of that, you don’t necessarily need to keep reminding them.
Viv Richards used to come out, blitz his way to 20 and then live off the latent threat for the rest of his innings. This is a smart way to go about things. Use your strengths to make life easier for yourself. The batsman who constantly needs to prove his aggression is an insecure batsman.
Ben Stokes’ innings progress in fits and starts these days. We’re taking this as a sign that he’s increasingly sure of himself.
Ben Stokes played a handy innings yesterday.
With his team, Rising Pune Supergiant, chasing Gujarat Lions’ 161, Stokes made 103 not out, batting at five.
Cricinfo said that Stokes “owned the MCA Stadium” – although their use of the past tense implies that he’s since sold it or perhaps had it confiscated.
This knock would, on the face of it, seem to be what the IPL is all about: big name players making big scores in dramatic fashion. Yet to us, it’s almost the least interesting thing about the competition.
Throw enough decent players together and ask them to play enough T20 cricket, and you’re going to get a few head-turning innings. Without remotely wishing to diminish what was clearly a magnificent example from Stokes, this sort of thing seems almost inevitable. It’s how the competition’s set up.
We find the shadier corners far more interesting; the areas where well-paid coaches are ferreting around trying to eke out an advantage. Because while Stokes won a match for his team, his only other batting contribution of note has been a fifty in a losing cause.
So far this IPL, the storyline that’s had us most intrigued has been that of Sunil Narine the opening batsman.
This is interesting for a kick-off because statistically speaking Narine isn’t any kind of batsman whatsoever. He has never made a fifty in any of the major formats – not even in domestic one-day cricket.
He is, in essence, a pinch hitter.
Narine’s team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, started the tournament with the relentlessly straight-hitting Chris Lynn, a man who’d scythed through the Big Bash League scoring at 177 runs per 100 balls and averaging 154.
Lynn started the IPL in similar style, making 93 not out off 41 balls in his first match and 32 off 24 in his second. Then he got injured.
Lynn was the fifth-highest run-scorer at the Big Bash. His replacement was the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the same competition.
What’s most interesting is that the move has sort of worked. It certainly hasn’t been a failure. Narine still doesn’t have a fifty to his name, but he made 42 off 17 in one match and 34 off 17 in another.
These are handy starts. They give his team-mates time and the risk is low as the loss of Narine is, on the face of it, not the greatest blow to a team’s chances.
Narine doesn’t hang about and this is handy because – odd though it sounds – the first six overs of a T20 innings do typically feature a surprising amount of about-hanging. Even those openers who are big-hitting by reputation will often play themselves in and this is something of a wasted opportunity considering the number of boundary fielders during the first Powerplay.
In a T20 game, a couple of extra boundaries in the first Powerplay could easily prove the difference between victory and defeat. At the same time, a whirlwind innings from one of the world’s greatest players could be the fat man bombing your lilo, trampolining you out of the water.
Who knows which kind of match the next one is going to be. Teams kind of have to bear both in mind.
At one point in the afternoon session, Ben Stokes accidentally spat on his own shirt. You’d think this would be a low point, but he plucked off the deposit with no obvious display of emotion. Perhaps he knew that things were about to get significantly worse.
Shortly after spraying a loose one over his off side, Stokes used the ball to find the edge of a Yadav’s bat. Alastair Cook – a man who we’re confident has dropped more chances for England than any other outfielder in history – duly did his ball-shelling thing.
Stokes looked ever-so-slightly peeved.
Three balls later, Stokes found the edge of another Yadav’s bat. Jonny Bairstow did that thing where he takes a huge step to the left while diving to the right, so that he doesn’t so much stretch for the ball as rotate around a fulcrum somewhere around his navel. The ball passed right by him.
Stokes looked ever-so-slightly more peeved.
But then the wickets came. The next five Stokes deliveries resulted in two wickets and he finished the innings with five scalps and a greater bowling workload than anyone bar Adil Rashid.
Ben Stokes made tiredness and not-quite-so-big-a-first-innings-deficit-as-might-have-been-expected happen.
If you were to look at Ben Stokes purely as a batsman or purely as a bowler, you’d struggle to see what the fuss was about. Averages of 34.04 and 35.64 are still at this stage the wrong way round.
Taken together, you begin to get a sense of his worth. Going off the numbers alone, he’s effectively two fairly mediocre Test cricketers rolled into one. No side would be desperate to find a place for a Wasim Jaffer or an Umar Gul, but if you could have both and field 12 players… well now, that’s an advantage (because you could just ask Gul not to field).
That’s effectively what Stokes gives you. But again, that’s not really the full story. England also have Chris Woakes, whose batting average is not far shy of Stokes’ and whose bowling average is way superior. Why doesn’t he attract quite so much excitement?
There’s just a sense that you know the Warwickshire man’s limits. Future devastating bowling performances seem entirely feasible and you could certainly see him making a Test hundred. Stokes seems to have it in him to do more than that.
The scope of Stokes feels unknown. England made 312 runs in 38.5 overs while he was at the crease in Cape Town at the start of the year. That is, by any stretch, eye-catching. Whatever he did either side of that innings, very few cricketers in history could have done that.
Today, he took 4-26 and then made 85 after England had flapped their way to 62-5. Either of those performances would have earned him post-match interview obligations. He did both.
There’s also just a touch of the Flintoffs in how he seems inclined to contribute when fans want it the most – such as when England are wobbling. We can’t quite persuade Statsguru to give us the figures, but we suspect that Stokes’ when-people-really-give-a-shit averages would be superior to his overall figures.
We’re just checking, only a great many people seem to be holding Ben Stokes entirely responsible for England’s defeat. Sometimes the player hitting the sixes has some sort of say in things too.
Think of it like this: if you were a primitive human and you sent one of your tribe out to take on an alien with a pointed stick, only for the alien to vaporise him with his ray gun, would it be fair to take issue with Terry’s stick-prodding technique?
Carlos Brathwaite hit four sixes on the bounce to win the World T20. With tens of thousands of people shouting at him in the ground, millions more watching at home and everything he’d worked for his entire life hinging on what he did next, it was a thick slab of brilliance.
It’s not like Brathwaite set himself for one particular shot and Stokes served it up on a trendy oblong plate garnished with fresh herbs and drizzled with some sort of balsamic jus.
The first one was angled into his pads and he picked it up and hoisted it behind square leg. The second one was again legside, near enough a yorker, and he did some sort of weird contortion and wristed it over long on. The third one was again yorkerish, this time on the stumps, and departed over long off, despite having taken what looked like a leading edge. The fourth was again legside and Brathwaite just snapped his wrists through it and plopped it into the crowd.
There were good balls and bad balls in there, but the bad ones were arguably even harder to hit for six.
The first one was a bad ball in a Test match because it would never take a wicket. A batsman could easily run it away for a single or possibly even clip it for four. It wasn’t easy to hit for six though. From that angle, into the body, it was bloody hard to hit for six. Just because it ended up over the ropes doesn’t mean it was always destined to end up there. The outcome colours our perception of what came before.
To hold Ben Stokes responsible for what Carlos Brathwaite did seems a peculiarly backwards way of looking at things to us; like blaming a pedestrian for getting hit by a drunk driver. Maybe the victim could have worn hi-vis or taken a different route, but that’s not really the point is it? The point is that the guy behind the wheel was pissed and decided to drive.
So, to recap: hitting sixes is hard.