Guess what everyone? Today is the fifth and final ODI, and the last international cricket of the summer. Yes, it’s still summer – did you not get the memo? You may think it’s nearly October, but there’s still money to be made, and if that means January is henceforth to be considered balmy high summer, then you’ll just have to lump it.
Of course, the usual lack of interest in a non-descript dead rubber of an ODI (apart from those with tickets, obviously – but they don’t count for anything these days) is compounded by (note capitalisation now required) The Ben Stokes Affair. As Sean wrote so eloquently yesterday the ECB’s track record when players go rogue is anything but a consistent one, and the importance of Stokes to the team (but not Hales remember) means they are now in a tricky spot with regards to the upcoming Ashes. Doubtless, they’d rather like the whole thing to go away, but it has to be said that this is rather more serious than the usual transgressions and the suspension of both Stokes and Hales was probably the minimum they could get away with doing.
There’s been a whole heap of discussion around the rights and wrongs of those events, but there are a couple of considerations for a blog like this: first of all, none of us are lawyers and the term “sub judice” tends to strike a degree of fear into the team. Worth noting that for the comments too by the way, so please be circumspect. Reporting what has been said is fair game, but there are plenty of places that’s discussed and rote repetition of what’s elsewhere seems a bit pointless. We do from time to time get information about various subjects and have refused to post them (you might say we skip them) because there’s no evidence and none of us want to land in court. We’re not so obscure we can say what we like.
The cricketing fall out is a bit different, which is why so many of the comment pieces in the press have focused on that. Stokes’ status as the talismanic all rounder makes this something of a nightmare for the ECB to negotiate, as they balance the needs of the team with their public role as the face of cricket (stop sniggering at the back). Were Stokes not so integral, it seems hard to believe that they would do anything but drop him from the Ashes squad, highlighting both the double/triple standards involved, and the line of least resistance so often taken. What that means is that they are now in a real bind – they can weaken the side substantially by not taking him, or if they do then they will be accused of placing results above all other considerations – something of an irony given their predilection for placing revenue above cricket most of the time.
That the two of them were out so late has been a topic of some debate, but sportsmen have often partied as hard as they play, and often go out late and yes, spend that time drinking. As much as some would like them to be monastic in their behaviour, it’s simply not going to happen with everyone – or more specifically, it’s not going to happen all the time. How often they do that is a slightly different question, but it’s certainly true that players in the youth England sides are kept on an extremely tight leash, possibly excessively so. It’s also true that many of the very best in all sports do look after themselves to an extent that the average person would find very hard to live with. What that ultimately means is that going out to clubs is not in itself evidence of too much, it is a matter of degree, and on that subject we do not know how prevalent that is with him, or with anyone else in the squad. And actually, nor should we – it’s a matter for management to, well, manage. Some nasty minds have asked the question as to whether if Stokes is convicted he would then be eligible for Australia or not.
Since the Pietersen fall out, there has been the question about how they would manage Stokes. In reality, something as serious as this wasn’t part of the discussion, since it’s actually possible to feel a degree of sympathy with the ECB’s dilemma here. But it’s likely to be the case that Stokes is most of all reliant on being an essential player, because the moment he isn’t, or suffers a drop in form, he is vulnerable to being properly briefed against as disruptive. This stuff almost writes itself these days, given the duplicitousness that is commonplace at the highest echelons of the English administration. Whatever the outcome of the current difficulty, the likelihood of a drip feed of negative stories about him in the future is one to watch out for in future – which is a separate question to how currently the media are posting stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day to cast him in a negative light. Already examples of poor taste comments on social media are being used against him – though when it comes to matters of conscience, the morality of someone who screenshots a private conversation with the intent of selling it to the tabloid press rarely gets mentioned.
Of one thing there’s no doubt at all – England without Stokes are a much weaker side than they are with him. The truly Machiavellian approach would be to consider this the perfect excuse for defeat, and the entire responsibility should it transpire can then be safely loaded onto one person with no awkward questions being asked about anything else. An “escape goat”, as it were. But of course, that degree of Humphrey Appleby scheming is well beyond any of those who like to sit comfortably in their jobs at Lords…
Oh yeah, fifth ODI. Will Billings play? Will it be Jake Ball or David Willey? If a cricket ball falls and no one sees it, did it really happen? Comments on the game below if you really want to – on anything else because you do really want to.