Andy Flower’s long-term future as England coach may be uncertain, but he can put the emergence of Ben Stokes down as one of his success stories.
Stokes, whose brilliant maiden Test century in Perth was the sole consolation as England lost the Ashes with two matches still to play, credits Flower with giving him the opportunity to prove he was serious about international cricket after all.
Less than 10 months ago, there were significant concerns that the Durham all-rounder might end up a wasted talent after he was sent home along with fellow curfew-breaker Matt Coles from the England Performance Programme for persistent late-night drinking.
But reformed character and young father Stokes did himself, his family and his adopted country proud with a defiant 120 as England subsided all around him to a 3-0 deficit at the WACA on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old knows he owes Flower a debt of gratitude, for allowing him a path back into the England reckoning once he had served his punishment.
Flower was unable, in the aftermath of the Perth defeat, to commit beyond the current series to the job he has done for almost five years – mostly to much acclaim.
But Stokes, for one, will doubtless be hoping he does stay on after all.
“Andy gave me another chance,” said the Christchurch-born 22-year-old son of former New Zealand rugby league player Ged.
“I think I showed him I wanted to play for England and get back into the fold – and made sure I wanted to change his mind, if he had any negative views on me.
“He gave me that second chance and I’m pretty thankful for that.”
It has been an eventful past year or so for Stokes, starting with the birth of his son, then his and Coles’s spot of bother, and of course not least that century in just his second Test.
Asked if he feels he has grown up a lot in that time, he said: “Yes. I took a look at the bigger picture and realised we’re icons to ... anyone, kids – so you’ve got to be doing the right things on and off the pitch.”
Stokes, unlike most of his team-mates, did plenty right in Perth – but would give it all back to still be in with a chance of winning, or at least retaining, the Ashes
“It was mixed emotions,” he said. “We were trying to deal with the fact we haven’t retained the Ashes and at the same time trying to celebrate a personal landmark.
“It’s great to achieve these things from a personal point of view – but obviously everyone, including me, is pretty gutted we’ve lost these Ashes.
“In the changing room, we had that little bit of sadness.
“But we’ve got to focus on these next two Test matches.
“There is still a lot to play for, a lot of pride.”
Stokes’s batsmanship against an outstanding attack on the bounciest pitch in the world, and one covered in crazy-paving cracks for the bowlers to aim at too, was a revelation to many – if not to himself.
“It was a challenge you want,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy and it’s good to put yourself out there against a really strong Australian attack on a fast wicket.
“It also gives you belief that you can do it.
“I wouldn’t say I surprised myself. That’s why I was in the team, to get runs at No 6.
“If you’ve got belief, that’s a massive bonus whenever you walk out on to the pitch.
“It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to get a hundred every time, but that belief is there now – and I hope the consistency will come as well.”
Only some belated success for England in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and then Sydney in the new year, and perhaps a little more for himself, will properly pacify Stokes.
“It will be something to look back on, scoring my first Test hundred in an Ashes series,” he said.
“But there is no I in team, and I’ll trade personal success for team success any day of the week.
“I would have sacrificed any personal success for the win on that day.”
He is determined too that he will not be a one-hit wonder.
“You’ve got to keep your feet on the ground, because it can all tumble down as fast as it has come,” he added. “Now has to be about consistency and not just living off that one innings.
“I hope I can go out there in this next game and try to prove myself again.
“Playing in front of 100,000 at the MCG on Boxing Day, I don’t think that will take much getting up for. It is going to be pretty special for everyone.”
Run-filled series sees Warner rise
David Warner has leapfrogged above England duo Ian Bell and Alastair Cook up to 11th place in the new ICC Test rankings for batsmen after helping Australia reclaim the Ashes in Perth.
Opener Warner followed up his first-innings 60 with 112 in his second knock as Australia earned a 150-run win at the WACA to take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series.
Those scores left Warner as the leading runscorer in the series and helped him move up three places in the rankings, as Bell and Cook – the highest-placed England players – each slipped one place to 12th and 14th, respectively.
Not all of England’s batsmen were on the fall following a third successive comprehensive Test defeat to Australia, though.
Kevin Pietersen climbed up one place 15th, Michael Carberry was up 17 spots to 83rd while rookie Ben Stokes soared up to 73rd place – a rise of 81 spots.
In the bowling rankings, England’s nemesis Mitchell Johnson has moved up three places to 14th, level on 663 points with Graeme Swann.