In the build up to the Cricket 50-Over World Cup, Durham, and former England captain Paul Collingwood has described the ECB selectors decision to omit Ben Stokes from the England squad as “ridiculous” and claimed that Stokes “could’ve won three or four games by himself.”
Following the decision to leave Stokes out of the squad, the Durham all-rounder has gone on to hit remarkable form in the Australian Big Bash League and hit an astounding 151 runs from 86 balls against South Africa ‘A’ while playing for England Lions.
The decision to leave Stokes out has looked increasingly questionable as Stokes comes into form and the player many view as his replacement, Ravi Bopara, seems to have lost any semblance of rhythm or consistency. Given that both players can fulfil a similar role in the England side, providing a useful bowling option in addition to their batting prowess, it seems increasingly strange that Bopara has retained his squad place despite his string of poor performances.
The make-up of England’s batting order may also count in Stokes’ favour. Excluding wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler, England have very few players capable of the kind of explosive hitting that Stokes has shown he can produce.
Ian Bell, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan are undoubtedly fine players with plenty of international pedigree but none of them are particularly big hitters, something which has been to England’s detriment when facing sides, such as Australia, whose batting orders are packed with batsmen capable of smashing huge sixes and intimidating a bowling attack.
Stokes has consistently shown the ability to truly dominate a bowler, both in his performances at international level and for his county. He is certainly a more aggressive run-scorer than Bopara who often appears happy to quietly accumulate rather than play the extravagant or brutal strokes more typical of a modern one-day batsman.
However, Bopara’s ability as a finisher could yet prove invaluable in the run chases England will surely face. He has proven his ability to guide his side over the line in the past and with the poor form shown by captain Morgan, generally regarded as the side’s most talented finisher, this could lend an air of credibility to those who wish to see Bopara retain his spot in the order.
Stokes, however, is also generally considered a more threatening bowler than Bopara, as he has shown in his previous England appearances. While not always consistently threatening or able to really hold down an end, Stokes’ bowling has the promise and potential to make him a genuine international all-rounder while Bopara’s medium pacers are unlikely to trouble many truly world-class batsmen.
The measly three overs he bowled throughout the recent Tri-Series perhaps highlighted how England’s management and captain Eoin Morgan view Bopara’s bowling, more as an option to give a break to others than as a genuine bowling option in his own right.
With England’s one-day bowling attack in a state of mild transition, following the reintroduction of Steven Finn and the ongoing development of Chris Woakes, the option to bring in another genuine bowling option in the form of Stokes is surely one worth considering.
Finn looked more like his old self, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are still unquestionably world-class, and Woakes continues to show signs of one day making the step up to replace Anderson.
The addition of Stokes provides the kind of option Morgan and England might rue ignoring if they hope to make serious progress in the tournament.
With many questioning England’s chances of making any serious impact on this tournament, the decision to leave out one of their form players – in favour of a man who bowled a mere three overs and scored only 57 runs in the entirety of the Tri-Series – seems increasingly baffling. While Bopara may have proved to be a steady option for this England team in the past, Stokes has shown he has that extra something that might just be able to help England achieve something at the World Cup.