Next month, England will attempt to defend their Ashes crown against Australia in the 70th edition of the famous cricket series. England and Australia are currently tied on 32 series each, with five series ending in a draw since the first tournament way back in 1882. And as crucial as this series could be for bragging rights, the dominating subplot in the run-up to the latest series revolves around Ben Stokes, who was arrested in Bristol under suspicion of causing actual bodily harm at the end of September. The incident, which came to public light via social media, has stirred controversy after it was revealed that Stokes attacked a man who was hurling homophobic abuse and behaving aggressively towards two gay men.
“You might as well pour gasoline into the vastness of The Gabba and watch the England players come to a nice crisp.”
Understandably, Stokes has been made unavailable for selection for the upcoming Ashes but team director Andrew Strauss has yet to rule England’s best all-rounder out completely. It’s a potentially damaging decision by Strauss that will unnecessarily stretch out an unneeded scandal with preparation well under way. Stokes is clearly a pivotal player for England; cricketers who possess power behind the bat, the precision to provoke roulette in the manipulation of the seam, and calmness in the field are like gold dust. But violence, whether it was done with good intentions or not, is inexcusable. Even as a marquee player, Stokes’ behaviour must be dealt with properly and the likes of Strauss cannot leave any room for forgiveness until the series has concluded at least.
Especially on Australia’s soil, the Ashes will be a frenzied exchange without the additional spice. In continuing to dissect a controversy as encompassing as Stokes’ incident and you might as well pour gasoline into the vastness of The Gabba and watch the England players come to a nice crisp. Going into the Ashes, the team need to be as free of scandal as they possibly can be. The Stokes debacle has already been drawn out too far; a line needs to be drawn through his name as quickly as possible.
The widespread media coverage has already fuelled enough punch lines to sustain the Australians beyond the 5 matches. Continued chatter about Stokes and his possible inclusion is sure to not only distract the players from their own preparation, but infect the team with enduring notions of self-doubt. With the spotlight firmly fixed on Stokes and the gaping hole it could leave in the side, we’re in danger of alienating the side before they’ve even encountered the first bowl. We need to instil confidence in the team, to show that they are capable of succeeding with or without Ben Stokes. There’s already been war cries from Australia’s resident motormouth David Warner, an antagonistic sign of confidence post-Stokes. The best retort for Root and co might be to wear the fur of the underdog with beaming pride.
This team looks quite harmonious, devoid of any swollen personalities with agendas to push. The 2017 team just feel very British and unassuming, an embodiment of Stuart Broad’s infamous ‘silent assassins’ quip at Brisbane in 2013. That quietness leaves little room for the Australian press to project insecurities onto and that’s the way it need to be in the time ahead of the series. Australia are definitely favourites, even without the consideration of home advantage, but England’s underdog status could help to fill the gap in quality between the two teams. Embracing what we do have to offer, rather than lingering on casualties, might just be enough to complete an unlikely feat.