Being subject to a police investigation, Ben Stokes is currently withdrawn from the English team heading to Australia for the Ashes. Stokes was involved in a fracas outside a Bristol nightclub which was caught on camera. Consequentially, the player is stood down at present from the touring squad and will be a massive loss for England. His replacement, Steven Finn, has been ruled out the tour with an injury. Tom Curran, the uncapped bowler from Surrey, is the new addition to the squad.
The England touring party has already come under much scrutiny and the lack of quality was questioned before a ball had been bowled. ABC Grandstand’s Jim Maxwell described it has “one of the poorest English batting line-ups I have ever seen to come to Australia”. BBC TMS’s Jonathan Agnew agreed with this summation by calling it “the weakest party I have seen sent Down Under from these shores.”
England with Ben Stokes
Over the last four years, England have played 50 Test matches and have won 20, lost 23 with 7 draws. During that time, Stokes has played in 39 of those games and England’s win/loss ratio decreases from 0.869 to 0.789 when he has played. Included in those statistics is the 2013/14 Ashes series where he featured in four of the five defeats, as well as the 2016 tour to India. Concentrating on fixtures outside of England, only four wins from 22 matches have been achieved and Stokes has featured in all four of those: West Indies (St George’s), South Africa (Durban and Johannesburg) and Bangladesh (Chittagong).
The much-maligned English batting lineup is weakened by Stokes’s absence. His batting average is 35.72 and he has six Test hundreds to his name. Included in that statistic is a defiant 120 at the WACA in 2013 which was the only English hundred of the series. Stokes bats slightly better on tour (average rises to 36.58) where 1,427 of his 2,429 Test runs have been scored. With the pressure very much on Cook and Root, runs from middle order could be crucial. It could be that England rely on Moeen Ali (average of 34.66) to bat in the number six position to fill the gap left by Stokes. Jonny Bairstow is another option, from the middle order, to bat in this crucial position.
The England bowling department has not avoided criticism either. Spearheaded by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, questions have been raised around the potency of the bowlers and the absence of Stokes increases the workload on the senior players. It’s hard to see that Moeen’s orthodox spin being as effective as Nathan Lyon on Australian soil. In addition, leg-spinner Mason Crane is very much an unknown quantity. Stokes’s 6 for 99 at Sydney in 2014 is the sort of contribution that England could need in this series. His record against Australia is pretty good: 26 wickets in 9 matches at 33.07 with two six-wicket hauls.
England’s record over the last few tours to Australia, apart from 2010/11, has been woeful. It has featured two 5-0 whitewashes (2006/7 and 2013/14) with Mike Gatting’s 1986/87 party being the previous English side to win Down Under. Only two Ashes Test matches have been drawn in the last 20 years and one would expect this trend to continue. With Stokes in the squad, England’s task was a tough one but now it seems gargantuan. Not only does Stokes contribute with bat, ball and in the field, it’s his character and fight (no pun intended) that will be sorely missed by England. Even if he does finally feature in the series at some point, the real question will be how well he is able to put a difficult last few weeks behind him. Undoubtedly, Australian fans will make sure that he doesn’t forget in a hurry.