London - England coach Trevor Bayliss has backed Ben Stokes to become one of cricket's all-time greats, joking that the combative all-rounder is likely to deck anyone who dares give him a rest.
With star paceman Jimmy Anderson currently sidelined, Stokes
is emerging as one of the keys to England's chances on a marathon tour of the
sub-continent which will see them play five tests in India in November and
December after wrapping up a two-test tour of Bangladesh.
Stokes was named man of the match after Monday's dramatic
finale to the first Test in Chittagong which saw England edge home by 22 runs
in a nail-biting contest.
In a match otherwise dominated by spin, Stokes took six
wickets with a mixture of classic seam and reverse swing that underlined his
growing intelligence as a bowler and importance to the pace attack.
But he also scored 85 in the second innings in a
sixth-wicket partnership with Jonny Bairstow worth 127 runs which effectively
turned the course of the game.
Bayliss said the 25-year-old was still at a relatively early
stage in his career but had the potential to be an all-time great.
"It's going to be easier to judge the longer he goes.
The potential of the guy – he could be right up there with some of the all-time
best all-rounders," Bayliss told reporters in Chittagong.
"Only time will tell, but certainly, the strides he's
made here on the subcontinent playing spin have been top class. It wasn't all
that long ago we were wondering how he might go on spin-friendly wickets, but
he's a guy that works extremely hard in the nets."
Since the retirement of Andrew Flintoff nearly a decade ago,
England have been lacking a top-quality pace bowler who can also bat up the
order and give them an ideal balance to the side.
Stokes' career best 258 against South Africa at the start of the year suggested his batting class but he had been seen as vulnerable to spin – a facet of his game he has worked exhaustively to improve.
"I think it's his defence to spin that has improved out
of sight," said Bayliss.
"We know that if he gets a bad ball, he can hit
anything over the fence but you've got to be there to get that loose
ball," he added ahead of the team's departure for the second test in Dhaka
which begins on Thursday.
"He's a guy that in the past probably hasn't had a lot
of footwork - plays from the crease a little bit and backs his eye and hands.
"But as we saw in the one-dayers and this Test, he
defended really well off the front foot, got right forward and smothered the
ball before it had a chance to spin and jump past the outside edge."
While England's management say they may have to rotate players during the tour to keep them fit and fresh, Stokes has made clear he will reject any offer to put his feet up and the selectors will have to drop him instead.
Asked if Stokes could play all seven Tests, Bayliss said it
would took a brave man to bet against it and indicated that he would more
likely be given a breather between the Tests.
"I'm not sure we're game enough to drop him out anyway,
might get a thump in the head," said Bayliss of a player who once broke
his wrist when he smashed his locker in a fit of anger.
"He's a very resilient person, let alone cricketer. We've got to watch what he does between the Tests to make sure he is available for all the matches."