Opinion: Stumped or Honours Board? Ben Stokes' career hangs in the balance

The England all-rounder has been acquitted of affray after a high-profile incident at a nightclub but can he restore his image after an 11-month ordeal?

Trevor Bailey; Tony Greig; Ian Botham; Andrew Flintoff. An esteemed list of England all-rounders that have been mentioned in the same breath as Ben Stokes on many occasions when it comes to batting and bowling quality on an international stage.

Yet the Christchurch-born superstar is under pressure to prove doubters wrong after the latest in a string of damaging incidents threatens to leave his legacy in the balance.

Unquestionable talent

There is no doubting Stokes' quality in all disciplines of cricket. A consistent average of 34-35 across each form of the sport prove that he is adept with the willow in any environment. 

A handful of impressive records only add to his case, currently holding the top spot for the fastest ever Test match 250, the quickest double-hundred scored by an England player and the most expensive oversees signing in the history of Indian Premier League cricket.

His bowling averages prove he is also more than useful with the ball, boasting between 30 and 40 for each discipline, with over 100 Test wickets to his name.

The right punishment?

Yet his name has been dragged through the dirt by an incident that has arguably been more high-profile than any of his cricket achievements. 

Arrested in September 2017, Stokes appeared to throw several punches outside a nightclub, although the defendent presented a theory that he was standing up for two men who were subject to abuse themselves - the jury concurred with his recollection of events.

The incident has divided opinion inside and outside of the cricket world. All charges were dropped but many still believe Stokes should have been slammed with some sort of punishment, whether that be personally or professionally - cricket authorities are still deciding how they will approach the incident - yet others feel that the jury were correct with their verdict and he should be allowed to now focus on developing his career.

 

A public apology must come soon

The problem for Stokes is that this is not an isolated black mark on his CV. The aggressive cricketer has shown similar traits too regularly on and off the pitch with a series of harsh words after various incidents from both umpires and the police across the last decade. Verbal tirades, speeding fines, drunken disturbances and even punching lockers have become a familiar element of Stokes' personality.

Before the dust had even settled on this latest verdict, Stokes was announced in the squad for the next Test against India that begins on Saturday with England maintaining their support for the all-rounder, as they have done for the majority of the last year.

Yet coach Trevor Bayliss has urged that his prize asset makes a public apology - something that should be in the best interests of Stokes who has not spoken to the media since leaving court and will do his cause no favours in the eyes of his critics - the longer he leaves an apology, the more it looks like he has no remorse.

No ODI wicket since March

Any apology needs to be followed by a change in attitude for Stokes. From now on, he must keep his nose clean, incident-free on and off the pitch. 

This latest incident has clearly had an impact on his game, as underpinned by his statistics since being arrested in September. In eight Test innings he has surpassed 50 just once and not bypassed single-figures on three occasions. His form with the ball has been slightly more convincing, taking nine wickets in five innings, although he is without a dismissal in his last four One Day Internationals, taking just one in six since the end of February. His batting average is currently dwindling around the 25 mark since his arrest.

Yet this could all change since the 'not guilty' verdict was delivered. At 27-years old, Stokes is entering the peak of his career. He has the ability to push his lifetime averages amongst the greats or drop down the rankings if his antics continue to take a hold of his game.

Whether you believe he should still be representing England or not, the ball is in the hands of Ben Stokes to determine how his career develops and it begins now...