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India vs England 3rd Test at Southampton: England must persist with Ben Stokes despite poor form

Ben Stokes (batting in picture) has struggled for form in recent times © Getty Images
Ben Stokes (batting in picture) has struggled for form in recent times © Getty Images

String of losses have pressed England to make drastic changes to their Test side, but not all of them have yielded desired results. Among the non-performers in their current side is all-rounder, Ben Stokes, who has had a terrible run after an impressive Ashes Down Under. Devarchit Varma says it will be a daft move by England, if they sack Stokes without giving him a long rope to prove himself.

Remember Boyd Rankin, the Irishman who made his debut in the final Test match of The Ashes series in Australia in 2013-14 and hasn’t played since then? Remember Scott Borthwick, who too made his debut in the same series and has never donned the whites again for England? Let’s not go far away, look at Nick Compton, a fine opening batsman, who was axed from the England side after an ordinary show, nine Test matches after his debut. What do these three cricketers have in common? They are on the same page in England selectors’ book which should ideally be titled ‘dropped without being giving enough chances’. If these three cricketers were poor enough to be dropped after only a couple of games from the England Test side, why were they selected in first place?

The 23-year-old Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes is flirting with danger, if one has to go with the English selectors’ philosophy. They have roped him in as someone who is capable to bat for longer duration despite perhaps not being good enough for a spot in the top or the middle-order, and someone who is smart enough to send down a few quick ones in order to sustain the pressure created by their frontline pacers in Test cricket. Unfortunately for England and Stokes, he isn’t in good form as a batsman, and they all find themselves lost in a desert which has no way out.

England can always take the obvious decision to get rid of the non-performers, but will that help? Is that helping them at the moment? Can English cricket find a good all-rounder in place of Stokes in the vast resources of county cricket? They still might be able to rope in yet another promising young player or bring in an experienced campaigner who was dropped a couple of seasons ago. But will that solve all their worries? Not really.

Among hundreds of players, a certain lucky one gets a chance to play for his country. Stokes is one among them. Will he turn out to be an excellent player for England or an ordinary one, only time will tell. But England need to do their bit in order to preserve players likes Stokes, and many others who were axed unceremoniously, without solid reasons, from the England Test squad.

Any player who gets dropped from any side sees his confidence going down, be it an experienced player or a new one. The experienced ones are those who have learnt how to cope up with  pressures, failures and criticism. But those who are new, those who remain startled with the fact that they belong to that lucky batch of cricketers who have had the opportunity of representing their nation, cannot cope with axing as well as criticism. The likes of Stokes, Simon Kerrigan, Rankin, Borthwick and many others before them came into the side when England’s struggles had just begun. If the senior players are not performing at the levels they are expected to, how can the inexperienced ones do well? Stokes, just like Rankin, Kerrigan and Borthwick came into the side when England started plummeting and right now, they are headed to new lows which isn’t easily addressable.

England selectors would certainly be wrong if Stokes is not allowed to continue any further. Not that he is a gifted player, but the fact that if he gets axed now, he won’t get the long rope that every cricketer deserves to prove himself. After all, the century at one of the most challenging grounds in cricket world — at Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) Ground in Perth — wasn’t a fluke. It’s not an easy task for any cricketer to score century in that part of the world. Stokes can also be a good support system for the faltering frontline England pacers, and he can easily carry out the job of batting lower down the order and keeping the opposition frustrated as long as he can. He only needs a couple of performances to get back in to the rhythm.

One also has to keep in mind that if at a tender age of 23 a player gets axed, his confidence takes a big hit. England are in desperate need of cricketers who can stop their decline, and unfortunately, nothing is going in their favour at the moment. But that doesn’t imply that dropping the non-performers would be an ideal solution. After all, everything has an end to it and such will be the case with faltering England and its non-performing cricketers.

Complete coverage of India’s tour to England here

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)

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