CHITTAGONG: England coach Trevor Bayliss has backed Ben Stokes to become one of cricket’s all-time greats, joking that the combative allrounder is likely to deck anyone who dares give him a rest.
With star paceman Jimmy Anderson currently sidelined, Stokes is emerging as one of the keys to England’s chances on a marathon tour of the sub-continent which will see them play five Tests in India in November and December after wrapping up a two-Test tour of Bangladesh.
Stokes was named man of the match after Monday’s dramatic finale to the first Test in Chittagong which saw England edge home by 22 runs in a nail-biting contest.
In a match otherwise dominated by spin, Stokes took six wickets with a mixture of classic seam and reverse swing that underlined his growing intelligence as a bowler and importance to the pace attack.
But he also scored 85 in the second innings in a sixth-wicket partnership with Jonny Bairstow worth 127 runs which effectively turned the course of the game.
Bayliss said the 25-year-old was still at a relatively early stage in his career but had the potential to be an all-time great.
“It’s going to be easier to judge the longer he goes. The potential of the guy — he could be right up there with some of the all-time best all-rounders,” Bayliss told reporters in Chittagong.
“Only time will tell, but certainly, the strides he’s made here on the subcontinent playing spin have been top class. It wasn’t all that long ago we were wondering how he might go on spin-friendly wickets, but he’s a guy that works extremely hard in the nets.”
Since the retirement of Andrew Flintoff nearly a decade ago, England have been lacking a top-quality pace bowler who can also bat up the order and give them an ideal balance to the side.
Work in the nets
Stokes’ career best 258 against South Africa at the start of the year suggested his batting class but he had been seen as vulnerable to spin — a facet of his game he has worked exhaustively to improve.
“I think it’s his defence to spin that has improved out of sight,” said Bayliss.
“We know that if he gets a bad ball, he can hit anything over the fence but you’ve got to be there to get that loose ball,” he added ahead of the team’s departure for the second Test in Dhaka which begins on Thursday.
“He’s a guy that in the past probably hasn’t had a lot of footwork -– plays from the crease a little bit and backs his eye and hands.
“But as we saw in the one-dayers and this Test, he defended really well off the front foot, got right forward and smothered the ball before it had a chance to spin and jump past the outside edge.”
While England’s management say they may have to rotate players during the tour to keep them fit and fresh, Stokes has made clear he will reject any offer to put his feet up and the selectors will have to drop him instead.
Asked if Stokes could play all seven Tests, Bayliss said it would took a brave man to bet against it and indicated that he would more likely be given a breather between the Tests.
“I’m not sure we’re game enough to drop him out anyway, might get a thump in the head,” said Bayliss of a player who once broke his wrist when he smashed his locker in a fit of anger.
“He’s a very resilient person, let alone cricketer. We’ve got to watch what he does between the Tests to make sure he is available for all the matches.”