The return of the prodigal son is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables and is constantly referenced throughout society. When one looks past the moral of forgiveness, however, there is always a sympathy for the good son who has stuck by his father through thick and thin, while his brother is off living a life of pleasure, wasting his fortune.
As the prodigal son is welcomed back with open arms, the loyal son is pushed to the periphery. Does he not feel some jealousy that his devotion goes unrecognised in the face of his brother’s return?
It is likely that the England cricket players must be feeling a similar sense of envy at the media buzz surrounding the return of Ben Stokes. The coaches have come out trumpeting his world-class skills and his efforts to get up to speed. The party line is that the players have been similarly welcoming of Stokes, keen to have such a talented player back in their ranks: a boisterous character back with the squad.
Yet, in the privacy of their own minds there must be a soupçon of anger about the return of a player whose absence was caused by his own misdemeanours. While Stokes would have undoubtedly loved to have been in Australia with the team this Christmas, he only has himself to blame for his absence.
So, when the team meet ahead of the upcoming series with New Zealand, Chris Woakes would be forgiven for casting an envious look across the room at his fellow all-rounder, remembering those long days toiling in the field bowling over after over in the Australian heat. Joe Root could not be blamed for chiding his star player and vice-captain for leaving his team short of energy and inspiration for long periods of the winter’s seemingly endless struggle.
As professionals, it is unlikely that the players will let such frustrations ruin their chances of success in New Zealand on the final leg of this gargantuan tour of the Antipodes, but fans will eagerly await this generation’s inevitable auto-biographies to hear if disturbances like this affected the team dynamic.
Almost unanimously, the players would accept that the team is stronger with Stokes on the field, with the only dissenting voice likely to come from the unfortunate soul he replaces. So, even if they are envious of his extended winter holiday while they were struggling in the sun, they will forget it as soon as they cross the boundary.
Now he has his lynchpin available again, Trevor Bayliss must put such fears of dissent to one side and blood him again. To leave such a superstar on the side lines would be absurd and any player who quarrels with that should be told to grow up or move aside. This is the brutal world of international sport and being a ‘good guy’ does not win you matches: you only need to ask the 2015 England rugby team for evidence of that.
This team has been crying out for Stokes’ leadership, talent and inspiration. He is the glue that holds them together and gives them the balance to turn them from an average side into a good one.
Stokes himself will be chomping at the bit to be unleashed against New Zealand and the Kiwis must fear that they will be on the receiving end of a redemption series in which Stokes dominates to firmly put himself back on the world stage.
Undoubtedly, Stokes will be hoping for such a fine return but expectations must be limited. While he is one of the most talented players in the world, such a long break from the game is going to leave one searching for form, especially when all eyes are trained upon their every move. Yet, given time, he is certain to produce the goods for England again.
Stokes’ return will be the making or breaking of him as well as, quite possibly, this England team, Bayliss and Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss. All of them will put any frustrations to one side and hope that their prodigal son is rewarded with a glut of runs in place of the fatted calf. If Stokes produces the goods, then all will be forgotten and the team will be a happier place once again.
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland