As the consistently excellent @pavilionopinions remarked on Twitter, “quite excited to see what happens when Ben Stokes eventually arrives in Australia and is greeted by Jonny Bairstow.”
From Stokes’ loose fists, to various players’ penchant for a night out and now Bairstow being the butt of every joke, the identity of what Australia and their media want this England team to be has been cast in stone and, no matter any midnight curfews imposed, there’s plenty more fun to be had.
How much this gets under the skin of the players is an eternal debate, which has riddled sports teams throughout history. The public declaration always tends to be, “we don’t read the reports/pay attention” but as British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has subsequently revealed post-New Zealand tour, this is almost certainly false.
The continuing snipes and negative coverage about their attitude, professionalism or demeanour is going to amp up the pressure and potentially shatter confidence or create the age-old siege mentality.
Given the dynamic in the England dressing room of experienced pros like Alastair Cook, James Anderson and the eternal Ashes enemy, Stuart Broad, mixed with the “unnamables” – as the Aussie press dubbed them – of James Vince, Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and Mason Crane, it’s difficult to gauge exactly how it’s going to fall.
But one man who it has already been assumed will seize on the barrage of abuse and try and use it as a catalyst for performance is Stokes.
The news late on Monday night that he is flying to New Zealand to spend time with family while also getting his eye in playing for Canterbury, was accompanied by scores of WWE-related gifs mimicking him walking out to bat at some stage in this Ashes series.
Ben Stokes walking out to bat in the Adelaide test... #Ashes pic.twitter.com/nUw2A5vHig— Dale (@Koka_Kolasinac) November 27, 2017
Assuming he is given the all clear to play in Perth, starting on December 14, Stokes will want to make up for lost time, stamp his name upon the series and, by that stage, quieten the jibes coming from the press box and David Warner at mid-off.
His bowling will be invaluable on a quick and bouncy WACA track with huge doubts over the fitness of Anderson which could intensify by the time the series rolls into Western Australia; while his aggression in the middle order sorely needed to silence a Baggy Green attack only growing in confidence.
But, before we fully romanticise over the impact he may have, the pressing concern is Adelaide – the one Test highlighted before the series as eminently winnable for the tourists and, given events at Brisbane, one they, at the very worst, cannot afford to be beaten by such a margin again.
The Stokes sideshow has to remain such until close of play on day five. For all he may or may not bring and when he may or may not be able to provide it, issues are there to be solved from Saturday.
Stokes’ decision to fly to New Zealand apparently caught cricket director Andrew Strauss by surprise, with muddled messages coming from the corridors of power at the ECB, and there is no guarantee he will feature in any Ashes Tests, let alone Perth.
Ben Stokes reportedly at Heathrow Airport.— The Cricket Pavilion (@thecricpavilion) November 27, 2017
Surely not, it can’t be, it may be...😳#Ashes pic.twitter.com/wC9dvIGVFd
The aforementioned “siege mentality” should be adopted to everything, good, bad or speculative. Because should England under-perform on a wicket which has bore them just two Test wins since 1982, outside noise will only be amplified and this series for England very quickly becomes about more of what happens away from the field than on it.