Will The Ben Stokes Incident Encourage A New Cricket Audience?

The Aussies are rubbing their hands together and can’t believe their luck. Before the England squad has even arrived Down Under, the visitors’ Ashes campaign is in tatters through the loss of one of their key players in the most disruptive and volatile of circumstances.

For all the wrong reasons, cricket returned to the headlines last week due to the fallout over Ben Stokes and Alex Hales’ Bristol punch-up in the wee hours of the following Monday morning, which sees the former – one of cricket’s greatest modern day all-rounders – suspended and likely to neither start the first test at The Gabba in Brisbane on December 12th nor feature at all in his country’s quest to reclaim the coveted urn this winter.

There are a number of reasons that cricket has tumbled out of mainstream consciousness; among them are its lack of coverage on terrestrial television and the younger generation’s preference for sports that require less concentration and investment than is warranted by a five-day test or 50 overs one-dayer.

Indeed, Stokes’ absence is a threat to the future of the test format in general and not just England’s fortunes going into the Ashes as the Durham man is well aware of the money to be made in the Indian Premier League whilst under police investigation.

Regardless of its outcome, and the brutal nature of the circumstances that threw Stokes into this predicament, this whole affair, rather strangely, could encourage a new audience to one of England’s most traditional sports.

Like its common accomplice rugby, except in bastions of these disciplines such as the county of Yorkshire, the two are often viewed as a plaything of the rich – “toffs” if you will – and extremely hard for a ‘commoner’ to make a breakthrough in without being part of the clique.

Immediate parallels are drawn to Andrew Flintoff. A fellow all-rounder who, after his exploits in the 2005 Ashes – the success of which was not capitalised upon to adequate effect by the ECB – became a crossover success and household name.

Before him, of course, was England’s greatest ever player who was likewise comfortable on both sides of the ball: Ian Botham. A relentless hellraiser, ‘Beefy’ came from a bygone, pre-Premier League era wherein cricket was always Top of the Pops and dominated column inches.

Make no bones about it, Stokes, the son of a professional rugby player, grew up comfortable himself yet he and his behaviour tap into a part of the British psyche that is often well received by the male populace; i.e. someone who likes a drink and a punch up on the weekend… a ‘bit of a lad’.

A father of two similarly disgraced by the emergence of a recorded mockery of Katie Price and Dwight Yorke’s blind son, it seems unlikely that Stokes’ antics will completely alienate the whole British public and may in fact attract those curious as to how he operates on the field and shall continue to perform with such controversy currently surrounding his plight.

According to reports, it remains probable that the authorities will not reveal their findings until the middle of this month at least.