Ross Clark

The England team is no place for Ben Stokes

The England team is no place for Ben Stokes
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I had never heard of Sam Curran when I took my seat at Edgbaston a couple of weeks ago. Four hours later I was joining in a standing ovation. Single-handedly, he had made my trip to Birmingham worthwhile. Without him, I would have been on my way home soon after lunch. Yet with England facing almost certain defeat, and with one batsman after another falling to feeble or misguided shots, he dug in, then stroked his way to 63 runs off 65 balls to give England a chance of victory which they seized the following day.  

Curran’s reward for that innings (as well as his five wickets in the match) is to be dropped for the third test at Trent Bridge, starting tomorrow. He had been named in the team but has been pushed aside to accommodate Ben Stokes, who has become available for selection again now that he won’t be spending the near future in a prison cell. On Monday, he was acquitted of affray outside a Bristol nightclub – in a fight in which he fractured a man’s eye socket and knocked another man unconscious.  

I had been looking forward to going to Trent Bridge, but I won’t now be there. In fact, I will not be buying another ticket for a cricket match so long as Ben Stokes is in the team. I couldn’t. If I did I would be wanting him to be bowled first ball and for every ball he bowled to be struck out of the ground for six.

Yes, of course I believe in the principle of being innocent until proven guilty. Ben Stokes is not a criminal. But the video shown to the courtroom is there for all to see. So, too, is the list of drinks he had that night – which he admitted in court as four beers, seven vodkas and lemonades and ‘a few’ Jagerbombs. And still he claims he wasn’t drunk when he turned up outside the nightclub in the early hours and got into a fight. It might not be criminal, but it is the kind of behaviour which makes English town centres intolerable after dark and demeans the nation.

The England selectors have made a terrible decision to put him in the team for Trent Bridge. Okay, give him a second chance. Let him prove he can behave himself off the pitch, deal with his drinking and behavioural issues and then, next year, tentatively introduce him back into the test team. But don’t stuff him back in the team and kick out the guy who won the Edgbaston test.   

It would be a terrible decision just on the grounds that it sets a bad example to others in the game. But is Ben Stokes so indispensable anyway? The last time the England selectors turned a blind eye to what went on away from the pitch was in the 1990s – when I remember a PR shot of the vast piles of crates of beer which had been delivered to the team as they toured India. What followed was one of the most miserable run of England performances ever. Those who think they can somehow combine a feckless life off the pitch with great performances on it tend to get their comeuppance in the end. Without Stokes, England won by an innings at Lords – his replacement, Chris Woakes, scoring 140 runs. They can win without him.   

I won’t be going to Trent Bridge, but I will keep in touch with the game. If Stokes is out first ball I am afraid I will not be able to suppress a cheer.