England have not won a Test in Australia for seven years. Yet, they were favourites to retain the forthcoming Ashes until the Ben Stokes assault controversy blew up in their confident faces last week.
It is still not clear whether Stokes will be on the plane to Australia, even though there is no doubt that as a public figure, his behaviour, albeit when not on England duty, was deplorable.
There is no doubt that as a public figure, Ben Stokes' behaviour, albeit when not on England duty, was deplorable. Pic/Getty Images
It is surprising that Andrew Strauss, England's Director of Cricket, didn't rule out Stokes' Ashes trip as soon as it was clear that the all-rounder resorted to playing a crazy, unstoppable boxer/wrestler in a brawl at Bristol.
Wasn't this the same Strauss who was determined, as captain of England, to have Kevin Pietersen out of the team in 2012 when he sent some members of the opposing South African team text messages that didn't show his teammates in good light?
In earlier eras, the English set-up has not been supportive of players who were likely to cause a storm. Fred Trueman found himself excluded from the tour party to Australia in 1954 amidst talk of captain Len Hutton not being able to control him. Apparently, Trueman had not conformed to the norms of good behaviour on the 1953-54 tour of the West Indies, where he lost out on his good conduct bonus for which Hutton didn't provide a reason. Even 10 years later, Hutton still refused to give him an explanation. Trueman found this baffling since he didn't indulge in drinking, unlike some of his teammates. In Ball of Fire, he wrote: "I was the only one punished in this way despite all the riotous goings-on and drunkenness of which I had no part. Despite all the stories that are told about me, I can truthfully say that I've never been drunk in my life."
Twenty seasons later, in 1974, John Snow was not picked for the Ashes series in which Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson demolished England. Since Snow showed his displeasure at a ridiculous Test trial in England where Geoff Boycott got a hundred in both innings, the English cricket bosses felt he would be unmanageable in Australia. England were then led by Mike Denness; not as strong a captain as Ray Illingworth was during the 1970-71 Ashes, which England won thanks to Snow's 31 wickets. It must be said that Snow did not come out smelling of roses when he said in an article in 1974 that the selectors would have to be shot before he made a Test comeback.
Back to Stokes. The video scooped by The Sun is not only distasteful, but also makes one wonder what he could do if things become unbearable for him in Australia on a night out.
The Aussies are known to love their sport, but some of them won't restrict their heckling to the playing arena. If at all Stokes makes it there for this summer's Ashes, he will have a lot on his plate to swallow - including his bad temper and ego.
Would it be best for England to tell Stokes he won't be in the Ashes squad? It's a question that can cause a big debate. The disciplinarians would swear by the belief that no one is bigger than the game and if the highly talented Stokes has not conducted himself as a player representing his country should, there is only one place left for him to be - home.
The more tolerant among a group of England supporters would feel Stokes should be sent to Australia if the law allows him to travel. There he should show the Australians that he is not afraid of their sledging and go about doing the job his team want him to do - attack their bowling and be the ideal foil to pacemen Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Sure, the Australian media would bring up the Stokes issue at every press conference and who is to stop them from using their poison pen? Nowadays, journalistic standards plummet each time Australia hosts an Ashes series. Remember the Courier Mail newspaper's campaign against Broad in 2013? "He doesn't walk, but he sure talks a good game. Yet lift the covers and you'll find STUART FRAUD," is what appeared in the newspaper's headline for a piece which projected how Broad's bowling average abroad was far inferior to his record in England.
English players have plenty of experience when it comes to dealing with a relentless media, so hopefully Stokes will be able to cope with brutality of a different kind, should he find himself in Australia.
Either way, the Aussies are vulnerable at the moment.The ODI series loss in India has exposed their overall cricketing weakness and their captain Steven Smith will be challenged to open a fresh page once he reaches home after the three-match Twenty20 series starting in Ranchi on Saturday.
Stokes or no Stokes, the 2017-18 Ashes promises to be a gripping series. Before the Brisbane kick-off on November 23, there will be a lot said, written and heard. Picture abhi baki hai!
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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