World Twenty20: Ben Stokes needs a game plan

OUTSIDE EDGE: Diary of a cricket obsessive

Having been won over by his student leg-breaks when I was a nine-year-old, my heart will always belong to Athers. But Ben Stokes has a place in my affections too – after tonking a double century from 168 balls, he must surely already be among the most beloved cricketers of his generation.

Yet so far at the World T20 things haven’t clicked for him. 37 runs in three innings is a poor return for a player who has the ability to knock the ball out of the park with ease; and when it comes to bowling, a solitary wicket in eight overs isn’t much to write home about. Conceding more than eleven and a half runs an over makes him the second most expensive of England’s frontline bowlers.

Simon Hughes has suggested Stokes is trying to hit ball too hard. And there is little in Indian wickets for Stokes the bowler, especially with a white ball in hand. Yet his overall record in T20 cricket suggests a wider problem – in short, Stokes hasn’t worked out a game plan in the way he has for Tests and 50-over matches. And the result, at least from distant appearances, is massive frustration for the player himself.

Stokes found a route to success in the other forms of the game after initially misfiring. Who wouldn’t love to see the same happen in T20s? – preferably against Sri Lanka at the weekend.

Having accepted his spot in the batting line-up, Moeen can shine

Moeen Ali spoke earlier this week about having accepted that his primary role in this England team is as a bowler. It has plainly been a hard transition – not least because it remains at odds with his role in domestic cricket.

Yet yesterday’s performance with the bat when England were in dire need demonstrated that acceptance begets immediate results. Just as he has flourished in Tests at number 8, so a lower-middle order role in T20s can still show him to his best batting ability. And with his bowling so effective in tandem with Adil Rashid, he is proving to be of more all-round value at the moment than the team’s other all-rounders.

The English season starts next week – get your woollies out

After some notable performances in the now traditional Abu Dhabi-located season opener between the MCC and last year’s county champions Yorkshire, the English domestic season will start a week today. In the UAE, Alex Lees’s 86 in Yorkshire’s second innings will have encouraged those who see him as a potential partner for Alistair Cook in England’s test team.

But for those who prefer the lower-key graft of early county matches against the universities, there will be real joy to behold next Friday when Essex take on the Cambridge students at Fenner’s – one of five such matches to begin on 31 March. Essex have new coaches (Chris Silverwood and Anthony McGrath) and new captains (Ryan Ten Doeschate and Ravi Bopara). But in the fens in March, the most important question is whether they have decent jumpers.

Is cricket an art or a science?

Cricket provides a perfect pastime for students with time on their hands. But do academics and cricket really mix? Scientists still don’t seem to have adequately explained the magical workings of swing bowling, while the Duckworth-Lewis method seems increasingly under strain.

Now researchers at Anglia Ruskin University have suggested most of us have been batting the wrong way round. We’d do better, they say, if our dominant hand was at the top of the bat – so people who are right-handed should bat with a traditional left-hander’s stance and vice versa.

It sounds bonkers of course. Then again, some of us course hardly do any worse.

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