PAUL NEWMAN: Ben Stokes is becoming BETTER than Ian 'Beefy' Botham

PAUL NEWMAN: After another scintillating all-round show in second West Indies Test, it’s fair to say Ben Stokes is becoming BETTER than Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham

  • Ben Stokes was excellent against the West Indies in the second Test for England 
  • England face a balancing act to keep Stokes fit and firing for another four Tests 
  • Stokes challenges the great Sir Ian Botham as England’s best ever all-rounder

The grimace as he pulled up after the fourth ball of his 15th over was the last thing England wanted as they dust themselves down and get ready to go again in what is now set up as an epic decider against West Indies in just three days time.

They may have enviable fast bowling depth for this unique series and will be able to shuffle their pack again back at Emirates Old Trafford on Friday but Ben Stokes is simply irreplaceable.

It was absolutely in character for Stokes to sprint to the boundary in pursuit of a Jermaine Blackwood punched drive off his own bowling before making a spectacular diving stop in an attempt to save a single run. Goodness, he did the same thing towards the end of a long and very hot day in Sri Lanka, let alone Manchester, 18 months ago. But it will be a costly display of his supreme commitment to the cause and all-action style if Stokes really did damage his groin or chest with his latest display of athleticism.

 Ben Stokes was excellent as England beat the West Indies in their second Test match

England held their collective breath when Stokes seemed to be holding his ribs and then left the field on Sunday before it was followed by a sigh of relief when it emerged he simply needed a comfort break. 

And they would have been relieved again on Monday night when Stokes insisted he had simply come off in mid-over as a precaution after taking advice from Stuart Broad when he felt his body starting to tighten during another monumental effort.

But England know they face a delicate balancing act keeping their prize asset fit and firing for another four Tests in as many weeks when he gives so much to the cause. Simply, they have to protect Stokes from himself by treating him with as much care as possible.

England face a balancing act to keep the star player, Stokes, fit and firing for another four Tests

Stokes has been compared to the great Sir Ian Botham as England’s best ever all-rounder

What an incredible effort this was again from Stokes, showing every facet of his ability with both bat and ball, in another wonderful Test. And what a player he has become. This was almost up there with Headingley last year.

We said here after the Cape Town Test in the New Year that he now stands comparison with the great Sir Ian Botham as England’s best ever all-rounder. But Stokes could be even better than that. He is becoming one of their best ever players full stop.

That’s why the well-being of Stokes will be England’s biggest concern when they see how their players have scrubbed up before they pick their team for Friday. Can they possibly rest him? They may have to at some point but it’s unlikely to be now.

Otherwise England will surely be in better shape than West Indies for the final Instalment even though they spent much of Monday’s last day in the field.

It was understandable Jason Holder put his faith in the same attack that did so much to win West Indies the first Test, particularly as Shannon Gabriel took nine wickets on his return from injury. But it was a gamble that backfired.

Gabriel, in particular, could not get his body through back to back Tests and he will surely be missing for the decider. West Indies may have to put faith in newcomer Chemar Holder or, if Old Trafford looks likely to take turn again, the giant off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall. They also have big concerns over the batting of John Campbell and Shai Hope.

Shannon Gabriel will likely be missing for the decider after coming back from injury too soon

England will, however, have Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood all fit for selection

England have far fewer problems. As long as Stokes is good to go they will just have to decide on the make-up of their seam attack, with Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood all fit and champing at the bit to return.

This will test England’s desire to rotate their attack to the full. Their preparations for this Test were thrown into disarray when Archer was forced to pull out on the morning of the Test but every indication is England have forgiven him and want him back on Friday.

They will surely want to have Anderson back too on his home ground bowling from the end that bears his name and have told him he is likely to play in four of the six Tests this summer as he gets closer to the magic figure of 600 wickets.

But good luck to Joe Root if that means he has to do what stand-in captain Stokes did before the first Test and tell Broad he is not playing again. The need for rest can only go so far, especially as there will be more of a gap after the third Test before England take on Pakistan while a weakened one-day squad take on Ireland.

It is a situation Root said on Monday night England should ‘celebrate’ and it is certainly one that makes them firm favourites now to regain the Wisden Trophy. Just as long as they find enough cotton wool to wrap Stokes up in until Friday.

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