In years to come no-one associated with Team England, whether player or fan, will look back on the 2013/14 Ashes tour of Australia with any great fondness. Indeed, there will be any number of people who block any memories of it whatsoever, leading to hilarious articles like this one and this one in particular, which at least contains multiple mentions of Liam Plunkett.
Despite the utter train wreck of this tour – and it’s important to stress that we’ve never seen England play so badly for such a concerted period of time – there have been a few bright sparks. Alongside the consistent excellence of Stuart Broad and the growing stature of Jos Buttler (both of which we’ll talk about in future articles), the main success has been the rise and rise of Benjamin Andrew Stokes.
Top class all-rounders are few and far between. Lord knows how many England have been through since Ian Botham gave up playing to become a brand ambassador for a betting site with no sense of humour. Across both forms of the game (as there were), we reckon there were probably thirty odd failures – most of which can be found in our Unlikely Lads series – before Andrew Flintoff emerged to fill that void. Post-Flintoff England have largely given up on the all-rounder idea altogether, settling for the rather more prosaic six batsmen/keeper/four bowlers lineup.
The emergence of Ben Stokes will change all that. He’s already proved that he deserves a place for his batting alone, having topped England’s series averages (albeit with a mighty average of 34.87), made the only hundred and top scored three times. Yes, he was basically competing against a bunch of gin-addled zombies, but those remain some impressive performances for a debut series. Add in the bowling (15 wickets at 32.80) and there’s clearly much to work with. Having said that, David Saker will have him bowling at about the same speed as James Tredwell within a year or two.
Adding an all-rounder into the side opens up a world of options: England could pick four quicks and a spinner, or hide behind seven batsmen and avoid a proper spinner altogether (which we previously discussed a bit here). Or they could waste a place altogether and pick Jonny Bairstow. The point is that England now have genuine options, something that they didn’t have before the southern Ashes.
Of course, it’s important to remember that Stokes is only 22 years old. There’s still a long way to go before he’s anywhere near the finished article – he’s already proved that he can be quite expensive, even if he is picking up wickets, and we can’t see him at number three in the ODI side for long – but he’s already making the right noises about ‘responsibility’, ‘enjoying the challenge’ and ‘staying in Australia for as long as possible in the hope of bumping into Margot Robbie’.
While this tour clearly represents the end of an era in many ways for England, it also represents the start of a new one, one in which the likes of Stokes and Buttler will take England forwards. At least until David Saker and Graham Gooch get properly stuck into them, that is.