Ben Stokes under fire as England tactics backfire spectacularly

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·Sports Reporter
·5-min read
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Ben Stokes is pictured playing against India in the first Test.
Ben Stokes has been slammed after throwing his wicket away in England's first innings against India. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Ben Stokes has been heavily criticised over three questionable decisions at the crease which several former England greats have pointed to as evidence of a flawed new gameplan.

England trailed India by 257 runs at stumps after day three, after a disastrous first innings collapse handed the tourists a commanding position in the first Test at Edgbaston.

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Few of England's batters offered much resistance, save for Johnny Bairstow's impressive century, but his effort wasn't enough to prevent India from gaining the upper hand after the first innings.

Stokes joined Bairstow at the crease with England in serious trouble at 5-83 on Sunday, and the pair managed to salvage some respectability from the innings at 5-149, before the captain inexplicably decided it was time to throw caution to the wind.

He got lucky after charging down the pitch to Mohammed Shami, with Shardul Thakur dropping an easy chance off the top-edge.

Three overs later Stokes went charging down the pitch again, this time against Thakur, but was again dropped after belting a tricky chance to Jasprit Bumrah at mid-off.

He tried the same thing again on the very next ball, miscueing his shot again but this time Bumrah made no mistake, sending Stokes on his way and seriously denting England's chances of squaring the match heading into the second innings.

His brain-fade was linked to an overall more aggressive style under new head coach Brendon McCullum, nicknamed 'Bazball', which delivered an incredible 3-0 series win over New Zealand last month.

While McCullum and Stokes greeted one another with a smile in the sheds, former England batsman Kevin Pietersen said it was a bizarre way to approach an innings.

“This is reckless batting, this is not defending your wicket, this is not protecting what we call the value of your wicket as a batter,” Pietersen told Sky Sports.

“Test match hundreds are valuable commodities, and when you get a Test match hundred it means a hell of a lot because of the stress, and the tension, and the patience, and the discipline that goes into it.

“I was watching Stokes there and thinking ‘he’s the captain, he’s the leader’. He’s talking about this new brand of cricket: Slog, Thakur drops him. Slog, straight to mid-off, drops him. Slog again, out.

“Those are three brain-fades from Ben Stokes in 10 minutes. And that’s where I think the devaluing of his test wicket is something that I’m watching and may not be a good thing.”

England in Test trouble against India afer first innings disaster

Pietersen wasn't alone in his reservations, with former Test captain Nasser Hussein and England batter Mark Butcher also critical of Stokes' decision making.

Hussein said that a determinedness to follow the instructions of new coach McCullum and set an example to his teammates was affecting his own game - showing in the past that patience is a key aspect of his game.

“It is taking something away from Stokes the batter because he is one of the most intelligent batsmen I’ve seen in the last few years, going back to 2019 and the Headingley Test and World Cup final, because he thinks his way through situations,” Hussain wrote for the Daily Mail.

“Now he is in charge he does not want to ask a player to do something he’s not willing to do himself and at times this summer he has come down the pitch when he doesn’t need to. There will come a time when he has to adjust a bit.”

Ben Stokes grimaces in pain after being struck by a delivery against India.
Ben Stokes threw caution to the wind against India, and lost his first innings wicket cheaply as a result. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Butcher said England had to learn when the time was right to take more risks - pointing out that with Stokes looking comfortable and the in-form Bairstow on his way to a century, the team was now in an unnecessarily difficult position.

“My misgivings about it are Ben Stokes is a guy who can pick the right ball to go after, he can go out there and hold off pressure, which is a lot of what Test cricket is.

“There are always going to be moments where you just have to hold the line for a bit, hold and hold, ‘and now we go at them again’. Force them into making a change.

“Ben probably could have cut both of the balls he slogged straight up in the air. He’s not a ham-and-egger, he’s not a guy who doesn’t have the skill to do it, so that, I guess, is the disappointment.

“They’re going to have to find the line between being hyper-aggressive and pushing the game forward and sometimes taking a tiny step back, being smart and then piling in again.”

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