Ben Stokes has been lauded for his “exemplary” conduct by England head coach Trevor Bayliss, who believes the all-rounder has learned a lot during a difficult year.
Stokes played a typically whole-hearted role in the 3-0 series whitewash over Sri Lanka, bowling intimidating spells on pitches that neutered other seam bowlers, scoring a pair of half-centuries and producing moments of tide-turning magic in the field.
It was all a stark reminder of the bristling, bloody-minded brilliance that England missed during last winter’s Ashes – a tour Stokes was removed from in the aftermath of a late night incident in Bristol which has still to reach a conclusion.
Both Stokes and England limited-overs team-mate Alex Hales have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute or actions deemed “prejudicial to the interests of cricket”.
The verdict of the three-man panel, chaired by former Derbyshire player Tim O’Gorman, should be the final word in the saga but as far as Bayliss is concerned Stokes’ recent efforts on and off the field have already shown he has emerged a stronger character.
“That (CDC charge) hasn’t affected him, I haven’t heard it mentioned once around the changing room. I hope he’s available for our next game.”
Bayliss was particularly taken by one moment during the final Test, when Stokes bowled the last over of the evening session.
His final ball of the third day was driven down the ground by Lakshan Sandakan, firmly enough for most seamers to indulge an exaggerated follow-through while leaving a seemingly thankless chase to a fielder.
Instead, Stokes turned on his heels and sprinted furiously in pursuit of the ball before a full-blooded dive saw him reel it in just in front of the rope saving three runs.
“He’s a mad man,” said Bayliss, recalling the incident with a smile.
“How many other blokes in the world would you see do that? No one. And that just says a lot. To see him bowl the ball and then chase the ball all the way to wide mid-on to save it, that’s commitment.
“You can throw the ball to him, you can put him in any situation with the bat, you can put him where the ball is coming in the field.
“For me, he’s the first pick. His averages may not be the greatest in each of his positions. But you add those three disciplines together, it adds up to one hell of a player.”