'New Flintoff' delivers an Ashes warning

01 August 2017
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Ben Stokes dominated The Oval Test with bat and ball evoking memories of an Ashes hero, albeit one without the best record Down Under

About the Writer:

Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.

As England and South Africa trade blows like two punch-drunk prize fighters, Australian cricket fans might be forgiven for thinking the result of this topsy-turvy Test series will have little bearing on the Ashes later this year.

To a certain extent that is right. England, who hold a 2-1 lead heading into the final Test at Old Trafford later this week, may gain confidence if they close out the series win.

Report, highlights: Moeen hat-trick seals England win

However, Australia will be a completely different challenge in much tougher conditions for England.

The form of Ben Stokes, though, should be a concern for Australia, the Durham allrounder's player-of-the-match display at The Oval underlining just what a talisman he is for this England team.

Stokes flays South Africa for brilliant century

After playing a fine innings of controlled aggression to score a match-defining century on day two at The Oval, Stokes' bowling spell on the fourth evening, when he dismissed Quinton De Kock and South Africa captain Faf Du Plessis in successive balls, drew comparisons with Andrew Flintoff. 

Usually such parallels can be taken with a pinch of salt coming as they normally do from fans or excited pundits.

Yet the comparison this time came from team-mate Stuart Broad, who said: "That was as quick as I've seen him bowl.

"It was an intimidating spell, a bit like Andrew Flintoff used to bowl – heavy and at the batsman. It was great to get two key batsmen out with genuine pace and exciting to be on the field."

Australia know all about how effective Flintoff was in Ashes battles, his contributions in 2005 and again in 2009 helping England secure memorable home series victories.

The less said about England's 2006-07 tour in between, when Flintoff was captain, the better.

Glorious Gilchrist

Stokes has relished facing Australia as well, scoring his maiden Test hundred at Perth during his debut series in the 2013-14 Ashes and playing a key role in helping England regain the urn on home soil in 2015.

After a year in which Stokes has established himself as the world's best all-rounder, a return Ashes trip is a prospect that will send his competitive instincts into overdrive.

We know Stokes likes Australia given how well he did in his debut series there four years ago, when as a 22-year-old he shone despite England's car crash of a tour that saw them suffer a humiliating 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

Back then he topped England batting averages, scoring 239 runs at 34.87 and took 15 wickets at 32.80.

Stokes stakes bid for No. 6

This has always promised to be a big year for Stokes ever since he was handed the vice-captaincy of England's Test team back in February. He then became the highest-paid player in Indian Premier League history, going on to be named the tournament's MVP after a fine debut season for Pune.

The fact is he seems to be getting better, rising to the added responsibility of leadership and pressure of expectation.

Wardrobe malfunction leaves Stokes red faced

And that is bad news for Australia, whose last brush with the 26-year-old came when he smashed a match-winning century against them at Edgbaston during the recent Champions Trophy.

Stokes, four years older, wiser and more skilled, will be a huge barrier to Australia's chances of regaining the urn.

He cannot do it on his own of course, other England players will have to come to the party too if they are to stand a chance.

Captain Joe Root, though, knows the value of a fit and firing Stokes.

Speaking after England's win at The Oval, Root said of his deputy: "He's always been a great player but over the last year he's really matured. He's found ways to be more consistent, affect the game.

Stokes' catalogue of confrontations

"He thinks really well and he's got a great cricket brain, which he doesn't always get a lot of credit for. 

"He's a person you know you can turn under pressure to wrest a game back in your favour - this week is a fine example of what he's capable of. He works extremely hard and you can see that now, so hopefully he's still on upward curve and has further to go and more to achieve in the game."

Australia, you have been warned.

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2017-18 International Fixtures:

Men's Ashes Series

First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Join the ACF

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets

ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets

Fifth ODI WACA Ground, January 28. Join the ACF

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets

T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21

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