England have given Ben Stokes an early opportunity to nail down an Ashes starting spot after naming the all-rounder in the side to face the Western Australia Chairman’s XI.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for the 22-year-old after he was sent home from an England Lions tour of Australia only last January.
But after playing a key role in Durham’s County Championship win and producing impressive displays with both bat and ball in the ODI series against the Aussies last summer, Andy Flower has found it hard to ignore Stokes’ form and he gets the chance to lay down an early marker in the battle for the number six spot.
Gary Ballance will also be staking a claim in the tour opener however, Stokes’ ability to bowl at 90mph puts him at the head of the queue for Ashes selection.
The Durham star, who was named Young Cricketer of the Year by the Cricket Writer’s Club, also has the backing of Ashes legend Andrew Flintoff.
“I’d get him in straight away,” the former England captain told The Sun.
“He can bowl at 90mph and can bat at six — it’s a no-brainer for me,” he added.
Since Flintoff retired in 2009, England have stuck with the tried and tested formula of six batsmen, wicket-keeper Matt Prior and four bowlers.
But with the emergence of a genuine all-rounder in Stokes they now have the chance to emulate the famous series win of 2005 when they fielded a quartet of four fast bowlers and a spinner.
With Stokes’ skiddy pace bowling already having success against the Aussies – he took career-best figures of 5-61 in the final match at Southampton – the uncapped all-rounder is a tempting outside bet to be England’s top wicket-taker in the series at 20/1 with Ladbrokes.
The left-handed batsman is 33/1 to be the tourists top run scorer in the five Test series.
With plenty of opportunities to impress before the series starts, those long odds could represent real value when the real Ashes action gets underway at the Gabba on November 21st.