Is this Ashes series like looking into a crystal ball of Ben Stokes’ England future? The country’s star all-rounder has been plagued by injury niggles during their torrid tour down under.
Stokes was desperate to play a part in this trip after missing the painful 2017/18 defeat in the aftermath of the Bristol nightclub incident. But he has been walking wounded since the first day of the series.
The all-rounder’s modest return of 227 runs at a paltry average of 28 and just four wickets at an eye-watering high of 71 shows he simply wasn’t ready for a big Ashes series. And that raises the question, should he have travelled in the first place?
England’s game changer took an “indefinite break” from cricket at the end of July to take care of his mental health due to bubble fatigue and the sad passing of his father. He also used his time away from the sport to fix a troublesome finger injury, which required two operations.
Australia would have much preferred for Stokes to stay at home. His Headingley heroics was the simple reason they failed to win a first Ashes series on English soil for 18 years in 2019. But like the rest of the failing English players, Stokes has failed to make his mark on the iconic series.
You have to cut the tourists’ talisman some slack because he was terribly undercooked heading into the tour. England’s preparation for the series was horrendous and the distinct lack of warm-up games before, and during, the Tests cannot be a blueprint for future away Ashes tours.
Stokes is understandably not at his best, but one thing you can never question is his heart. He, arguably, shouldn’t even be playing with his injury troubles. Many players would have flown home after the serious side strain he sustained in the fourth Test in Sydney. But his commitment to the cause and desire to play for England is second to none.
He's one of the most impactful players in the world, but has been visibly injured during the humiliating tour. He jarred his knee during the first Test and hasn’t fielded in his favoured second slip position in order to protect his newly-fixed finger.
The influential Stokes is England’s most prized possession and should be used as such. He can win you a game with either bat or ball and you could make a magnificent montage of his spectacular catches.
Stokes has an ability to bowl seriously long spells and is seemingly superhuman at times. He memorably bowled the entire session during the Headingley Test in 2019 when he steamed in for 24.2 overs on the trot — the longest spell by a pace bowler since 2006.
Despite Stokes’ incredible willingness to do whatever is asked of him, England need to learn from Jofra Archer’s injury plight to ensure Stokes is physically ready to perform at the peak of his phenomenal powers.
Speedster Archer, who can hit lightning speeds of 96mph, was the country’s new hope and was being primed to be their battering ram for years to come.
But he was chronically over-bowled during his first year in international cricket and now has a recurring elbow injury which has kept him on the sidelines since March. His future in an England shirt remains in serious doubt.
And the way Stokes has been utilised in this series has been mind-boggling to say the least. He was bowled into the ground as the enforcer in Adelaide whilst the express pace of Mark Wood was rested.
The 30-year-old has been compared to Freddie Flintoff as England’s go-to man ever since he burst onto the scene over a decade ago. His incredible match-winning 135 not out and unbelievable 76-run last-wicket stand with Jack Leach in that heralded Headingley game also drew comparisons to legend Ian Botham’s brilliance at the same ground in 1981.
Freddie was his own worst enemy at times and England have to be careful Stokes doesn’t fall to the same fate. Flintoff was riddled with knee and ankle problems, which eventually brought a premature end to his career. The Lancashire all-rounder regularly used cortisone injections just to get on the field.
Much like Stokes, Freddie famously played through the pain barrier. It’s excruciating to miss big games for your country, but it cut Freddie’s time at the top short and no-one wants to see Stokes’ career go the same way.
Stokes’ serious side strain means if he does play in the final test at Hobart it will be as a batter only. Ironically, despite being severely hampered, he was one of England’s best players at the SCG with dual half centuries in the dramatic final-day draw.
Playing for the Three Lions obviously brings enormous pride for Stokes and England cannot afford to lose him. He’s someone who balances the makeup of the side, so they need to wrap him in cotton wool.
*18+ | BeGambleAware