Ben Stokes says that his memories of being England’s matchwinner in both the World Cup final at Lord’s and last month’s incredible Headingley Test will stay with him forever, but that he would willingly sacrifice his heroic role in the latter in exchange for an Ashes victory.
Stokes completed a remarkable summer’s work at The Oval on Sunday, where England squared the Ashes 2-2 with a 135-run win in the fifth and final Test. In doing so, they denied Australia their first series win in England since 2001, although the win was not enough to claim back the urn, which was successfully retained by Australia thanks to last week’s victory in the fourth Test at Old Trafford.
But on a personal level, Stokes’ summer could scarcely have been more of a triumph. In the Ashes, he was named England’s Player of the Series for his haul of 441 runs and eight wickets, including that stunning unbeaten 135 in England’s one-wicket win at Headingley, a performance that was hailed as one of the greatest Test innings of all time.
And, following on from his Player-of-the-Match display against New Zealand in the World Cup final, where he marshalled England’s run-chase with an unbeaten 84 before crashing eight more runs in three balls in the Super Over, as England broke their 44-year duck to win their maiden 50-over title, albeit on boundary countback.
And now, with a month of down-time ahead of England’s tours of New Zealand and South Africa, Stokes finally has a chance to take stock of a summer in which so much was expected of England’s cricketers, and so much was ultimately delivered in a pair of campaigns that captivated the nation.
“It has been a blast,” said Stokes. “Before England had played a game this summer we knew we had the World Cup and the Ashes ahead of us and now we’re stood here at the end as World Cup winners and with a drawn Ashes series. Obviously we’d like to have won it, but we haven’t lost anything.
In August last year, Stokes’ career stood at a crossroads, as he stood trial for affray at Bristol Crown Court following a brawl outside a nightclub in September 2017, and since his acquittal, his desire to transform his reputation and make up for lost time has manifested itself in a series of outstanding performances – including a thrilling outfield catch in the World Cup opener against South Africa at The Oval; a trio of battling half-centuries against Sri Lanka, Australia and India that helped keep a floundering World Cup campaign on track, and a second Ashes century in the second Test at Lord’s.
“All I wanted to do was have an impact in as many games as possible and help England win as many matches as possible this summer,” he said. “It probably hasn’t all sunk in yet, but at some point I’ll be able to look back with some satisfaction at what we managed to achieve as a one-day team and a Test team this year.
“So many people have been in touch at various times during the summer, and that catch here at The Oval against South Africa feels like such a long time ago, but I guess that is where it all really started.
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing because we had to dig ourselves out of a hole in the World Cup and then we had to scrap until the very last to get that trophy, but we got it.
“The same in the Ashes where we had to fight all the way to the end to get the draw, but we got it and I think that is something we can be so proud of. When things got tough, we didn’t crumble, we stood tall to the end and showed the character in our dressing room.
“There have been some incredible highs and some moments that I can hardly believe happened, but they did and I will always be able to remember what it was like being out there in the middle when we won the World Cup or won at Headingley.
“There have been some incredible highs and some moments that I can hardly believe happened, but they did and I will always be able to remember what it was like”
“But as good a day as that was, I would still swap that drama at Headingley for an overall Ashes win though.”
That opportunity slipped away in the Old Trafford Test, where Steve Smith’s double-century established an Australian stranglehold on the contest that England were unable to escape, despite another battling fourth-innings display. And though Australia’s subsequent celebrations would have been painful for England to witness, Stokes insisted that the team had needed no extra motivation to square the rubber at The Oval.
“Every game means something regardless,” he said. “There is no such thing as a dead rubber against Australia and, with the Test Championship, there is something riding on each game with the points on offer.
“We were motivated enough to perform here and didn’t need anything extra to get us going. We were pretty disappointed not to get the urn back after giving ourselves that chance at Headingley, but as a one-day group and a Test group this summer we’ve not lost anything.”
Stokes paid tribute to his Ashes team-mates after the Oval win, not least the openers Rory Burns, whom he said had “set a great standard” for the batting line-up with 390 runs in tough conditions, and Joe Denly, whose dismissal for 94 in the second innings had left the dressing-room “devastated”.
He also singled out Jofra Archer as “the sort of guy who can help get those Ashes back when we go Down Under”, with his combination of fierce pace, relentless accuracy and huge stamina, and praised Stuart Broad for once again setting the tone for the bowling attack and proving that he’s “nowhere near done” after claiming 20-plus wickets for the fourth time in an Ashes series, a record for an England bowler.
But, most of all, he said that the Oval win was a fitting send-off for England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, who is leaving the role that he took over in the summer of 2015, with the express aim of lifting that elusive World Cup.
“I’m not sure I’m looking forward to life without Trevor in the dressing room because he’s been an amazing person to have around over the last four years,” said Stokes.
“He obviously got brought in to do a bit of a job with our one-day cricket but he’s had a massive influence on this group of Test cricketers too.
“I’m really glad that we managed to win this last game for him. There were a lot of things that we were playing for out there and Trev was one of them.
“I’m so glad that we got to send him off with a win because he has been amazing for English cricket.
Trevor Hohns wants to see more of captain Alex Carey
Australia’s selection chairman Trevor Hohns feels Alex Carey should be given more leadership exposure so that he may be a legitimate captaincy contender whenever Tim Paine’s time is up, even if he is doubtful whether there would be room for both to play in the Test team this summer.
Having successfully retained the Ashes in England, Paine’s immediate future is secure, leaving him with a good deal of autonomy about how long he decides to continue playing. Carey, though, is held in extremely high regard by Hohns and the national team coach Justin Langer, while he has also assembled a first-class batting record that is trending impressively upwards after two difficult Sheffield Shield campaigns to begin with.
Hohns admitted that Paine’s position as captain of the Test side in England had made it virtually impossible to fit Carey into the squad, and also suggested that like Adam Gilchrist 20 years ago, he might have to wait until the incumbent gloveman exits the scene before gaining a debut. Hohns was selection chairman in 1999 when Ian Healy’s decorated Test career was summarily ended after the panel had decided against first trialling Gilchrist as a batsman only before making him the No. 1 wicketkeeper.
“Alex Carey is very highly thought of and desperately unlucky, but it just didn’t quite fit him when Tim’s the captain and there’s a couple of other blokes that wicket-keep as the fill-in, but Alex understands all of that,” Hohns told ESPNcricinfo. “He is held in such high regard that I’d seriously like to see him captaining his state, but that’s not for me to say. He’s the type of person that potentially is a very, very good leader.
“I keep going back to Adam Gilchrist as a prime example. He possibly could have played as a batsman but we don’t know. I put him in the allrounder category and Alex can be the same.”
Undoubtedly, there is a sense among Australian cricket’s decision-makers that Carey is the team’s future wicketkeeper in all forms, and also potentially the captain. Paine, by his selection as a leader while keeping wickets, has opened up the possibility for someone other than the best batsman getting the job as had been customary.
“Along the way we’ve been trying to develop leaders. Not necessarily anointing who the next captain is, and that’s all been to give some of the younger guys, who deserve it by the way, the opportunity to show some leadership around.”
In doing so, he has opened a door for Carey who, was inaugural captain of the Greater Western Sydney Giants in the AFL before returning to cricket, is yet to play a Test. In South Australia he has played under the leadership of Travis Head, who has this year served as Test vice-captain but was dropped for the fifth Test at The Oval.
“It’s nice to hear that and to have the support of the playing group and the coaches,” Carey told ESPNcricinfo about Hohns’ comments. “It means I’m doing something right. I would love to captain firstly South Australia if that opportunity came up. Once I’m in the green and gold it’s [a case of] keep learning as much as I can from guys that have led the country.
“I guess learning from experiences through footy, through cricket, through life, I see my best leadership qualities is how I try to handle myself, and how do I try to train, and how do I try to be the best player and person I can be. If I can help Finchy [Aaron Finch] at all behind the stumps, obviously that’s my job as vice-captain, so to keep learning and keep growing in that role. Hopefully one day if there’s an opportunity I’d be comfortable enough to do that.”
The other man in leadership considerations will naturally be Steven Smith, having stamped himself as one of the world’s finest batsman during the Ashes and also demonstrated a growing measure of maturity and life balance that was arguably missing before Newlands and his year out of the national team. “That’ll be one for the future to be answered about Steven in general,” Hohns said.
“Along the way we’ve been trying to develop leaders. Not necessarily anointing who the next captain is, and that’s all been to give some of the younger guys, who deserve it by the way, the opportunity to show some leadership around. There’s more to being the captain than just making the calls out on the field. It’s more about off the field etc. We’re trying to make sure some of these guys get experience at state level, and while we can’t tell the states who we want as their leaders, we can make suggestions.”
Carey’s first two summers in the Shield reaped a mere 200 runs in seven matches for South Australia, but since then he has compiled 1338 first-class runs in 24 matches at an average of 37.16, including two centuries. It’s a record that compares favourably with most batsmen in the country save for the very top of the pile, meaning that a rapid start to the Shield this season would pose serious questions for Hohns and Langer, particularly after Carey showed himself more than comfortable in international company during the World Cup.
Paine’s batting was the subject of plenty of scrutiny during the Ashes, as he struggled for runs until a vital half-century in the decisive fourth Test at Old Trafford, after had been counselled by none other than Healy to “bat like a wicketkeeper” and be more intent on scoring than occupation of the crease.
“Tim’s done a very good job as captain, that goes without saying. We do obviously need him to continue to contribute,” Hohns said. “He’s still probably the best wicketkeeper in the world in my mind, I might be a bit biased, but in the area he operates in it’s important to contribute with the bat. That’s all we’ll be asking him, and he’ll know when the right time is I would say. Then if his performance or his contribution wanes then they’re the conversations we have to have at the appropriate time.”
There is some irony to the level of discussion to be had about the future of the Australian captaincy, given the extremely rushed and far from glorious circumstances in which Paine was handed the role by Hohns and the former coach Darren Lehmann at the height of the Newlands scandal last year. Hohns has revealed his account of the snap decision to make Paine the Test captain in Cape Town, within minutes of being informed by Smith that he was to stand down.
“We didn’t have time to go into anything in too much detail because we had to make a decision just like that,” Hohns said. “But it was clear he was the type of person who could do the job, personality-wise as well. As it’s turned out he’s done a wonderful job. In a very, very difficult period of time he’s been outstanding for us and for Australian cricket.”
A full interview with Trevor Hohns will appear on ESPNcricinfo later this week
Ben Stokes’ wife dismisses ‘nonsense’ claims of physical assault
Ben Stokes’ wife has dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion that she was subjected to a physical assault by her husband during last week’s PCA Awards ceremony in London.
Stokes was named as the PCA’s Player of the Year at a gala dinner at the Roundhouse in Camden on Thursday, after starring for England in both the World Cup final victory at Lord’s in July and the Headingley Test against Australia in August.
However, according to the Guido Fawkes website on Tuesday, Stokes was alleged to have got into an altercation with his wife, Clare, during the ceremony, and at one point appeared to have raised his left hand to her throat.
Within two hours, Clare Stokes posted a clarification on her Twitter feed, which her husband retweeted, but with many followers on social media condemning what Guido Fawkes had described as a “chokehold”, the ECB chief executive Tom Harrison was also moved to comment on the incident.
“Unbelievable what nonsense these people will make up!” Clare Stokes wrote on Twitter. “Me and Ben messing about squishing up each other’s faces cos that’s how we show affection and some pap tries to twist it in to a crazy story! And all before we then have a romantic McDonalds 20 mins later!”
Harrison added: “We have spoken with both Clare and Ben – as well as others in attendance – who have all clarified the innocent context behind the still photographs taken at last week’s PCA awards.
“Whilst it is not the case here, we recognise that for the millions who are impacted by domestic violence, this is a very real and serious issue.”
Stokes is the favourite to win the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award after a memorable summer. His successes on the field have rehabilitated his public image after the events of September 2017, when he was arrested outside a nightclub in Bristol and later acquitted of affray in a high-profile court case.
Last month he earned widespread public sympathy after the Sun newspaper chose to publish details of a family tragedy in New Zealand 31 years ago.
In a statement, Stokes described the Sun’s decision as “disgusting” and “immoral”, adding that his public profile was not an excuse to “invade” the privacy of his family members.
Forty more women to make a living from cricket as England play catch-up to Australia
“Must do better” has become a mantra for Clare Connor, the ECB’s managing director of women’s cricket, when speaking about the game’s appeal to women and girls and the chicken-and-egg effect that has on England’s ability to produce a big enough pool of world-class players.
The ECB’s elaborate plan to overhaul the game for women and girls, unveiled in central London on Tuesday, aims to address the problem by allowing another 40 women to make a living as full-time professional cricketers, offering greater incentives for players to stay in the sport and increasing the depth of England’s talent stocks.
The Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket strategy commits £20 million over two years, which is expected to grow to £50 million in the next five years, to improving player experiences from club to elite level.
The 40 new domestic contracts will be awarded in addition to the existing ECB central contracts currently handed to England’s top 21 players in an attempt to keep talented players in the game when they would otherwise have to drop out to earn a living elsewhere.
While the ECB won’t say how much the new contracts are worth, Connor said they were “in line with” Professional Cricketers’ Association recommendations and, when added to earnings from The Hundred, would be “not far off what one of the lowest-paid England centrally contracted [women’s] players are currently earning”.
The PCA’s recommended minimum salaries for players aged 18-24 in 2019 ranged between £18,433 and £26,114, although those figures are now being reviewed for 2020, when the minimum wage for full-time professionals kicks in at £27,500. The PCA said after Tuesday’s announcement that discussions with the ECB were “positive but ongoing” regarding player payments.
Connor said the plan was for the number of domestic contracts to increase over the next five years.
“The feedback from lots of county meetings and talking to a lot of people and from talking to our own staff from a performance perspective, was that it would be better to have a smaller number of full-time pros who aren’t trying to juggle further education or part-time jobs,” Connor said.
“It’s not an end point, it’s certainly the start point to try to get to somewhere near 100 by the end of the strategy, but to have a group of pros underneath the centrally contracted group who are full-time cricketers is more powerful than having, for example, another 80 or so who are very part-time earning a very part-time wage.
“It will give us a pool of players who should really be pushing much harder for England places than a larger number of semi-professional players would.”
Back in July, as England stared down an eventual 12-4 Ashes series drubbing, Connor said Australia’s superior domestic structure and investment model had been a telling factor. By increasing the number of women who can make a living from cricket, the ECB hopes to emulate Australia’s success. England won the 50-over Women’s World Cup in 2017 but were beaten by Australia in the World T20 final last year.
In another move aimed at bridging the gap between domestic and international level, the entire domestic structure will be revamped from next season with the existing 34 first-class and national counties grouped into eight regional teams which will play a 50-over competition from 2020 and both 50 and T20 competitions from 2021.
The biggest region is London and the East, comprising first-class counties Middlesex, Northamptonshire and Essex plus six national counties. Each region will have an administrative centre, to be determined by early December, with a dedicated regional director of women’s cricket. Loughborough is likely to play an important role, given its high performance facilities, and Connor said alliances would likely be formed between the regions and their respective teams in The Hundred with “some alignment of players and staff”.
Connor was also comfortable with the salary bands for players in The Hundred, although there was an ongoing aim to address the disparity between women’s and men’s earnings. The lowest-paid men will earn £30,000 from The Hundred, while the lowest-paid women will earn £3,000.
“No women in this country were even paid to play cricket until five years ago and whilst there’s no one more impatient than me in that area I think we have to be realistic about where we are and we have to acknowledge that what we’ve done across the Women’s Hundred is we’ve benchmarked it across a lot of women’s sports competitions – FA Women’s Super League, Women’s Big Bash, the direction of travel for the women’s IPL – and it’s a really good start point,” Connor said. “There is huge commitment to close that gap as quickly as we can.”
Other initiatives announced as part of the plan include the introduction of an Under-19 women’s program next year to prepare for an ICC Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup in 2021, expanding cricket programs to more primary and secondary schools, increased funding for girls’ county age group cricket and a pot of funds for clubs to improve girls’ recreational cricket.
There remain holes and unanswered questions, including the lack of an elite domestic T20 competition next season and the fact that players not on central or domestic contracts will still be forced to make tough decisions on their future career path. But 40 more professional players is far better than the status quo and the ECB plans to hold information sessions for players on how the new structure affects them once the regional hubs are finalised in December.
England captain Heather Knight said there was no better time to be a woman playing cricket.
“I remember I was a 14-year-old girl and I was training with the Devon boys team,” Knight said. “The coach asked for a show of hands, ‘who wants to be a professional cricketer?’ A few of the boys put their hands up and I thought, ‘I’m going to put my hand up as well’ even though it wasn’t an opportunity at that moment for girls to be a professional.
“I thought maybe it might change in the future and yeah, I’d love to do that as a job. So I stuck my hand up and a few of the boys sniggered a little bit, so it’s great now that it can be professional and not just at an international level.”
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