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The Ben Stokes affair: a dismal tale of power without responsibility

No English cricketer has got so rich so fast but the all-rounder’s figures do not add up to a career as successful as it should be.

A few months ago a study was published warning against the use of hand dryers in public lavatories because of the high density of airborne human waste particles. Turning on a hand dryer hugely accelerates the rate at which these circulate the room. So, to take a topical example, when Madonna lingers sensually over the jet from a hot-air dryer in the iconic video to the No 1 hit Get Into The Groove she is basically bombarding her own face with particles of human excrement, blowing accumulated toxic faecal matter directly into her eyes, nose, mouth and hair.

This is of course a distressing image, although no doubt Madonna’s legend will survive intact despite such attempts at revisionism. But at the time the hand dryer study seemed such an excellent metaphor for so many parts of modern life it was almost too much, too good. Step away from the faecal particle metaphor. This will just have to wait for a worthy subject.

At which point, enter the Stokes trial, a series of inanities that has from first sight of that CCTV footage to the many wretched details of the trial, felt like a sustained, shared gust of particles across the senses. You will have heard the news by now. After 11 months and huge expense on all sides the court has spoken. Ben Stokes is innocent. Of affray. According to a jury. After due legal process.

This is of course great news for Stokes, his family and his fans. Not to mention his QC, who can get back to his usual multimillion-pound frauds and high-profile murders rather than defending a celebrity accused of punching someone. It is also good news for anyone who does not really care what people get up to in their private lives and just wants to see Stokes playing cricket for England, which he will now be free to do pending the ECB’s disciplinary process.Rory McIlroy

This being sport, a binary place of winners and losers, it has been tempting to draw some instant conclusions from this impossibly tangled situation. In reality, only two things seem unarguably true.

First, Stokes the cricketer has already been diminished by all this. That lost year isn’t coming back. Stokes looked ready, ripe, a man finally entering the purple zone. Who could fail to be thrilled by that balletic swivel-pull, the hammer-throwers’ slog sweep, the perfectly still punched on-drive where for a second everyone just stands and watches and feels the game being taken away from them.

But even now this is a talent still working itself through, still finding its sustained outer limits. There is as yet no Stokes series, no Stokes trophy moment, other than the one Carlos Brathwaite has on his mantelpiece. His stats are OK but not what they could be. Stokes has never been higher in the Test rankings than 18 as a batsman and 19 as a bowler. The innings that might have been a pistol shot, that otherworldly double hundred in Cape Town, is instead another spike in a series of moments, good bits, stellar passages.

Next year will bring one of the most urgently packed-out cricketing summers ever played on these shores, with a World Cup eliding into an Ashes series. For Stokes it could also be a moment of dramatic crisis, a chance, aged 28, to write the England history his talent, if not his judgment, deserves.

And second, what about our role in all this? Who made this cricketer? Who informed his sense of himself, his role, his responsibilities? Professional sport does not exist in a vacuum. It did not invent itself but it does undoubtedly do strange things to people at the sharp end.

Stokes has been through every international age group, from a youth spent inside the blue Lycra machine to vice-captain, year-round central contractee and the beaming commercial face of English cricket. The ECB knows him, knows his habits, has monitored every minor misstep, curated every triumph, tiptoed around their man’s rise to an unusual degree of personal power.

It seems odd to think now that around the time of the trip to Mbargo the real concern around Stokes was how long the ECB might be able to keep him around. Stokes was the reigning IPL player of the year after an outstanding Indian spring. From April to September he became, briefly, the most powerful player in English cricket history.

Article credit - Guardian

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