Cricket: Trevor Bayliss has handled the Ben Stokes affair calmly and will ruffle few feathers during the all-rounder's reintegration

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Scyld Berry
Trevor Bayliss has handled the Ben Stokes affair calmly and will ruffle few feathers during the all-rounder's reintegration
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Most coaches, on being told that his star all-rounder had been arrested and would miss the Ashes, would have thrown several bats as well as a fit. But how well and calmly Trevor Bayliss has handled the Ben Stokes affair since taking the fateful call from Andrew Strauss last September.

Bayliss even managed a wry laugh when commenting on the latest episode in the crisis - utterly without precedent - which could have derailed England’s cricket completely this winter. Asked whether he had stomached enough Stokes stuff in the last five months, Bayliss said: “I was sick and tired of it from the first day!”

Stokes being made unavailable for the Ashes by the ECB made a huge dent in Bayliss’s CV. He has won them at home, but his prospects of doing the same away were snuffed out in a phone call, and he will never get the chance again as he is retiring as England’s head coach at the end of the 2019 season.

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Had Stokes been available, Australia would still have regained the urn because they had much the stronger bowling attack. But it might have been 3-2, not 4-0. What if Stokes had strode out after Mark Stoneman and James Vince had shared their century stand at the Gabba and batted as he had done on England’s last tour of Australia when Stokes was the only century-maker, and England had passed 400?

Australia’s batting was pretty mishmash in Brisbane, their line-up barely attuned to home conditions after a tour of India: Cameron Bancroft, with his hard hands, was debuting as opening bat, Peter Handscomb looked hopeless and Shaun Marsh had yet to visit the opticians in Adelaide and revive his career. The scoreboard pressure would have been immense on Steve Smith if Australia had faced a bigger total than 302.

And what if Stokes had been around to pitch the ball up on that first morning in Adelaide after Joe Root had sent Australia in? As vice-captain, and sturdy of character, Stokes might not have wilted as other seamers did. England, not inconceivably, could have been two-up with three to go and who knows how Australia’s selectors and players might have panicked then?

But it could have been worse, like 5-0, if Bayliss had lost his sense of proportion and therefore of humour, if he had ranted about young players getting over-paid and not recognising their responsibilities to their country and themselves, unlike Australian players in his day.

Bayliss was proved right too about Joe Root batting at number three. In the Ashes Root was too keen, as he himself admitted, which meant he tried to score too quickly for the conditions in trying to lead by example. At three Root will have to be more measured and self-controlled, which will thereby enable him to convert all those fifties which fail to become hundreds.

Having grown up as a country boy then learned his cricket in Sydney, which even more than Barbados or Mumbai or Yorkshire can claim to be the epicentre of the world game through the ages, Bayliss is conditioned to best practice: so you have your best batsman at three, and pick two spinners, one of whom can turn both ways. Whether Mason Crane can fill that bill remains to be seen, but Bayliss has his Test template - and with Stokes now set to return to the Test side, England could afford Crane as an expensive luxury who might just have a magic spell.

Bayliss’s next task is to reintegrate Stokes without upsetting the rest of the squad. Mark Wood and Alex Hales will be apprehensive about their place in the one-day side that won 4-1 in Australia. But the coach’s calmness and sense, when he eventually does speak, will ruffle the minimum number of feathers.