Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Ben Stokes' 'crime' as art... Straussy's Dad's Army moment: More Ashes notes

As the weeks stretch on, it's becoming easier to think of the Ben Stokes nightclub incident as something mediated and unreal, an art installation, an arch comment on the role that the ginger avenger has in the England cricket team. In it, Stokes plays himself, of course, while Alex Hales becomes an avatar for the rest of the side. His lairy opponents, unpleasantly tooled up with beer bottles and plenty of mouth, represent... well you can guess who they're supposed to be. Hales prances around on the fringe of the action while Stokes gets stuck in and sorts out the troublemakers.

As in life, so in cricket. Stokes is a take-no-prisoners player, a man of the people standing up for himself and his mates, often outnumbered, rarely outgunned. An England team with him in it has a fine balance, and more than that, his presence reflects well on others. His success makes their job easier, makes them look better.

Sometimes in sport, greatness is defined by absence. Stokes is not yet a great, but minus his power, England are almost visibly weaker. A single Test is a small sample size but the defeat in Brisbane was one of early resistance then mild acquiesence. Moeen, Woakes and Bairstow all had their reasons for it. Whatever they are, they looked less good without Stokes beside them.

The fear of more defeat, and the slightly abstract nature of the charges Stokes may face for taking action against some at-best ambiguous characters, lends heft to the desire for him to play. I feel it too.

"They discourse like angels, but they live like men," Samuel Johnson wrote. Divorcing the lifestyle of the artist from the nature of the art has sometimes been important, as well. We yearn for Stokes' character on the field, but not in the street.

A month or so ago, I was at a Chance To Shine dinner at Lord's [message me and I'll drop the names of the other speakers]. The most affecting and memorable part of the night came from a teacher at an inner London school, precisely the sort of place that Chance To Shine wants cricket to penetrate. He spoke passionately about the need for Stokes to be held accountable for what happened that night. Some of his pupils looked up to Ben Stokes. Lots more of them knew who he was and had seen the phonecam footage of the streetfight. It was the sort of thing they'd watch and share regardless of any interest in sport.

How, he asked, were they supposed to know that punching someone in the street was wrong if it happened without consequences? Some of them lived chaotic lives, they existed in different worlds with moveable boundaries and mixed messages; and some of them were growing up in places where this sort of stuff, and much worse, happens all the time.

It's not up to Ben Stokes or the ECB to solve those sort of deeply-embedded, deeply complex issues, except maybe indirectly, by getting people into cricket. It's not Ben Stokes' fault that those issues exist. He hasn't committed the crime of the century (or, so far, any crime at all), and he doesn't deserve to be made an example of, because then he could fairly argue that all of his good examples be taken into account too, and there are plenty of those.

All of that other stuff is the job of the police and the justice system. But he does need to be held accountable, as all of us do. And while that is being sorted out, it's probably right that he doesn't play, even though that in itself is a form of punishment for him, and, as it turns out, for the rest of the team, and the England fans.

It's only the Ashes, after all...

Don't tell him, Pike

Meanwhile in Brisbane/Adelaide or wherever they were, Australia won by an innings-and-plenty with the Bairstow "coming together" of heads non-story. Here were more Stokes repercussions, felt even as he packed his New Balance* bags for New Zealand. Andrew Strauss, understandably sensitive about the whole drinking culture/curfew/naughty boy nets-type stuff, could do nothing but take this nonsense seriously.

There followed a comedy classic, 'Straussy' trying to coin euphemisms for headbutting on the hoof and in front of the mics, Bairstow painted as "socially awkward" with a load of rugby players for mates (someone save him...), all followed by the inevitable appearance of Chris Woakes before the press, a man who rivals a playing days Alan Shearer for implacable public blandness.

Next time, cut Strauss out and put Woakes up right away - the story will immediately begin gasping for oxygen...

*Good dummy from Stokes at the airport. New Balance have dropped him, but they sponsor the England team. The world's first pass-agg airport baggage?


Md Nayeem said...

Stokes!!Stokes!!actually there is something different in him, I think, somehow he is little bit invective, but, that is always for his team. He is a committed person to his team. That's why, he is the courage for his teammate....

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