I notice that Australia have regained the Ashes in the shortest time possible, thumping England once again to take an unassailable 3-0 win in the series. I haven’t been following this series for two reasons. Firstly, the rights were bought by BT Sport which I don’t have (splitting sports between Sky and BT is stupid; you end up having to pay two providers for comprehensive sports coverage, even for the same competition in the case of the EPL). Secondly, and more importantly, I was massively put off when the ECB decided to exclude Ben Stokes from the squad after he was involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in September.
The decision to suspend Stokes on full pay was made before the police had charged Stokes with anything, and indeed they still haven’t:
Team supremo Strauss said: “We’ve had no information from the police. We’re waiting for them to make a charging decision and, until that happens, nothing has changed. We’re in the same situation as we have been for quite a long time now.
So why is Plod dragging its feet? Do they really need two months to decide whether to charge someone? Or are they doing it on purpose, to make themselves feel superior? You can be sure that if it were a politician involved or someone else with connections, this would have been closed out in double-quick time. And what the hell is the ECB doing? I get it has an image to protect, but if Stokes hasn’t even been charged, let alone found guilty of a crime, why is he being suspended? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? And this leaves aside the possibility that Stokes intervened on behalf of someone else who was being attacked.
Now I might be a little biassed here in that had David Warner (say) been caught parking on double-yellows I would be calling for his immediate execution, but the decision to suspend Stokes still pisses me off. He is an exciting all-rounder with considerable talents and would be an asset in most (if not all) international teams. Moreover, he has in spades what the England team has lacked for years: balls and aggression. Notably, he was the only player to make a hundred in that disastrous Ashes tour of 2013/14 and one of the few who came home with his reputation intact. He is one of the most exciting players to watch and very popular with the fans, upon whom the game depends. But he’s rough and tattooed and aggressive, and what the ECB really wants is a team full of fresh-faced goody-two-shoes in blazers who granny would like tea with. The fact that they can’t bat for shit doesn’t seem to matter; preserving the squeaky-clean image of the ECB is apparently their top priority.
They might have got away with this had England not been trounced Down Under, but now they have questions will be asked. It’s glaringly obvious that an absence of Ben Stokes isn’t the main issue and his inclusion wouldn’t have changed much, but it is indicative of how the ECB is focusing on all the wrong stuff. The fans don’t care that Stokes filled in some scallies outside a club, but they care very much that England’s batsmen can’t handle fast bowling. Alistair Cook has failed miserably, and hasn’t had a run of decent scores for years; Joe Root has done what all England captains do and forgot how to bat, which might not be so bad if he looked like he could captain; England’s bowlers are 10mph slower than their Aussie counterparts, and our spinner – though very likeable – has been outclassed by Nathan Lyon. The newcomers to the side – Stoneman, Vince, and Malan – have done pretty well but the story with England has been the same for years now: the openers fail to provide a decent platform, and the middle-order have to fight like hell to reach a respectable score. Until we get a decent top order that can regularly get us to 150+ for 2 or 3, our bowling attack doesn’t really matter. If we could also get a player with such remarkable consistency as Stephen Smith – who also has the burden of captaincy on his shoulders – that would be mighty fine too. Joe Root showed extraordinary promise early in his career, whereas Smith was a bits-and-pieces player for several season before he settled into the side. Root should be where Smith is now, but instead he’s floundering at the crease and all at sea in the field. But who else is there? Well, Stokes, now you mention it.
Attempts will be made to explain away this defeat by pointing to the trend of home teams winning series. Last time the Australians came to England they got whipped, although not as badly as England are now, and complained bitterly that the ball was “swinging too much”. People mentioned at the time that Australians no longer play much county cricket as they used to leaving them exposed when it came to English conditions; I am now hearing that rubbish pitches and congested schedules leave English batsmen woefully short of experience facing genuine quick bowling. The home/away factor will certainly play a part here, but nothing should detract from the fact that aside from a few cameos by the newcomers and middle-order, England have barely shown up.
Someone at the ECB needs to pay the price for this, and his replacement needs to adjust priorities such that sending a decent, prepared side into a test series ranks higher than virtue-signalling. Where this leaves Trevor Bayliss I don’t know. 3-0 is pretty damning; 5-0 will be worse.