England look to fire without Stokes as Ashes begins on Thursday.
Brisbane: England are resigned to being without Ben Stokes for the whole of the Ashes series and it will be fascinating to see whether they can replace him — and win without him — against Australia.
The two unfamiliar line-ups open hostilities for the Ashes, the oldest prize in Test cricket, in Brisbane on Thursday.
Stokes, who was vice-captain to Joe Root, did not fly out with the rest of the squad after a late-night incident in which he appeared to get involved in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub in September. Recently, there has been speculation that the 26-year-old all-rounder, often compared to former Test great Ian Botham, could return in time for the third of a five-Test series.
But with the England and Wales Cricket Board still waiting to discover if he will be charged by prosecutors, Stokes’s Ashes participation remains uncertain. Stokes’s combination of skills — powerful left-handed batting, lively seam bowling and brilliant close-catching, allied to an ability to inspire his team-mates — make him one of the most highly prized players in world cricket today.
They also help balance the side, with England able to play an extra specialist bowler without weakening their batting. Such is Stokes’s importance to England that many pundits believe they cannot win the Ashes without him.
“Stokes is two things — he’s a class above the rest, and he’s such a match-winner that he drags the team along with him,” former Australia captain Ian Chappell told the Wide World of Sports.
“If he gets things right and plays really well, he’s the sort of player who can lift the rest of the team. Without him they (England) are no chance (to win the Ashes),” he added.
Stokes’s ability to shine even in the most difficult of circumstances was seen when he made his maiden Test century against Australia in Perth during the 2013-14 Ashes series, where England suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat.
This year Stokes, a genuine all-rounder, became the IPL’s most expensive foreign player when he was signed by the Rising Pune Supergiant for £1.7 million ($2.2 million).
He justified the price tag by scoring 316 runs at a strike rate of 142.98, and taking 12 wickets at 7.18 in the Twenty20 event.
But if Stokes wins big, he can lose big too — notably when Carlos Brathwaite hit him for four successive sixes to snatch a stunning win for West Indies in the last over of the 2016 World Twenty20 final.
Stokes, however, often demonstrates more guile than is suggested by his all-action approach.