As Ben Stokes pummelled his way to a blistering 37-ball 77 on his debut for the Melbourne Renegades, the Channel Ten commentators worked themselves into fervour of unparalleled proportions.
‘Why isn’t he in the England World Cup squad, they’ll be hoping someone gets injured to let him in’ whined Damien Fleming.
Of course Stokes’ innings was spectacular, and in isolation was a convincing argument for his inclusion in the World Cup squad. But what the voices on Australian TV didn’t understand were the multiplicity of reasons as to why Stokes simply shouldn’t be included at the World Cup.
In 19 ODI innings Stokes has only made double figures 9 times. From a man whose aggressive style is so feted, this a pretty unimpressive return. He averages a paltry 15.66 in his stuttering ODI career thus far, and while many will be quick to mention that he was shifted up and down the order by England, for a man of his immense talent he should be performing more consistently by now.
So if Stokes is, as many think, a part of the future the English cricket, then why has he been omitted from the England squad? The answer is glaringly simple. He hasn’t scored enough runs and he hasn’t taken enough wickets. A Test average of 25, which is including his sensational hundred at Perth, is scant return for a player of his ability.
Stokes’ ability is undoubted and when he plays like he did on his Big Bash debut then he is certainly a world-beater. Part of Stokes’ problem stems from a perceived attitude problem. I am by no means saying that he has an attitude problem, but it appears the ECB may have marked his card.
After his locker incident in the West Indies, Stokes’ reputation was tarnished, not necessarily with the fans, but rightly or wrongly with the ECB. Under the Peter Moores and Alastair Cook regime that prevailed for most of last year, Stokes was stifled in a number of ways.
His opportunities were limited to just two Tests during the summer due to injury and non-selection and he was bunted around the ODI batting order with alarming regularity. While it easy to blame either Stokes or the ECB, it might be more true to lay the blame with both parties. While Stokes will certainly not have benefitted from being in and out of the team, he also had the chance to take his career kicking and screaming to the next level. He did not take his chances.
An interesting subplot to the Stokes story is the debate over the nature of the England dressing room. Many former and out of favour players have openly criticised the atmosphere inside the dressing room, with Kevin Pietersen and Michael Carberry being amongst the most vocal.
Stokes is not as easy to manage as others. He is young, occasionally hot headed and immensely talented. He does not require normal managing. He needs nurturing to help him become the player he threatened to be during that innings at Perth last winter. With his huge score in the Royal London semi final and his debut knock for the Renegades, Stokes is showing the signs that he may only flourish fully away from the all encompassing and smothering England dressing room.
It is worth noting that Stokes only bowled one over on his Renegades debut and batted at first drop. This is a clear indication of where they feel his skills lie. England have almost exclusively used him as a lower order batsmen and main seamer – who they rely on to bowl at least 6 or 7 overs. In just a few days the specialist T20 coaches at the Big Bash have identified him in a completely different role to their ECB counterparts. So has Stokes been left out of the World Cup because Peter Moores just has no idea where best to use him?
Despite what many on social media and the Big Bash commentators may say, I actually believe that the ECB have gotten this one right. Stokes will become a consistent performer, but not in time for this World Cup. He has the raw ability but his recent performances just don’t warrant inclusion. I don’t think, as a selector, you could look one of the 15 men in the squad in the eye and tell them that Ben Stokes has done more to justify a place in the team than them.