Ben Stokes: England”s instinctive and inspirational all-rounder: On day 2 of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge, England had to skittle out their arch-rivals for one final time to regain the Ashes-urn after 599 agonising days. After the heartbreak at Lord”s, the hosts had scripted a stunning comeback, which included cleaning up Australia for a meagre total of 60 all-out at Trent Bridge. However, in the second innings, David Warner and Chris Rogers had motored along and strung together a century stand.
Enter Ben Stokes. Stokes, with just a tilt of the wrist, seemingly had the ball on a string. Stokes was duly rewarded for his flame of brilliance with a six-for. To make it a great Test match for the Durham all-rounder, he took a sensational one-handed catch to dismiss Adam Voges in the first innings. On the back of Stokes and Stuart Broad”s unbridled performances, England also won the game by an innings and 78 runs, and the series.
Stokes had to certainly earn for his wickets. If Rogers succumbed to a delivery that angled in before nipping away off the seam to catch the edge, then to Marsh, he bowled a booming inswinger from around the wicket that seamed away after pitching to produce the outside edge. He also got it to jag back off the seam sharply to trap Nevill plumb in front. As the Stokes-inspired England side got closer to wrestling the Ashes from the hands of Australia, the cheers got louder. The boundless joy was in a sense the echoes of gladdened hearts of the paying public.
Stokes also showed iron-clad self-belief during that spell. Remember, Alastair Cook had dropped a catch off his bowling to give Warner a reprieve. However, Stokes continued to bowl with vim and vigour to fulfill his vehicle of dreams.
Now, rewind a few years to the WACA in 2013 when Stokes gave a glimpse of his oodles of talent with the bat as well. He stood alone amidst the ruins with his coruscating brilliance. Wickets fell at the other end like confetti, but Stokes soldiered on. He pulled and cut; fearless and furious. When Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris pitched it up, the duo were met with neat drives and flicks. His priceless gem of an innings went in vain as England surrendered the Ashes within a space of 14 days into the series. However, there was no doubt that Stokes would be one of the pillars of England”s rebuilding process.
Just recently, Stokes” match-turning century, replete with power and timing, followed by an electric spell on the last day at Lord”s against New Zealand, had taken the hosts out of the dark pits of despair to victory. It can be said that with his youthful exuberance, Stokes swept away all the negatives that surrounded English cricketer before that Test. Of course, Cook had also played his part in that win with his patient-vigil at the crease.
In fact, since Stokes has come into England”s set-up, it hasn”t been just about him snaring wickets, taking spectacular catches or opposition teams being blown by his furious charge with the bat. But, he has lent sparks of imagination to a side that largely played attritional cricket. It also has to be said that with Stokes in the side, it gives Cook the chance to use his strike bowlers, James Anderson and Broad in bursts. In short, as a cricketer, he seems to have a sense of destiny and the supreme confidence to realise it. Such cricketers don”t come along easily.
If we trace Stokes” early career, he made his County debut for Durham against Essex in 2010 and was tipped to reach great heights. In his first season itself, he cracked a couple of tons. The writer also fondly remembers listening to the BBC radio when he smashed a hundred against Lancashire at Chester-le-Street in 2011.
Glen Chapple, untiring and extracting appreciable seam movement off the deck, rattled Will Smith and Michael Di Venuto up front. However, that day, Stokes” willow sparkled with fire and charm. With each stroke that he played, the elements of anticipation grew among the radio commentators. Steven Croft finally put an end to Stokes” marvellous wave of mastery by cleaning him up. By then he had made 185 and Durham”s score had gone well past 400. It was the County season, when Stokes” bowling improved significantly as well. He took his first five-for in County cricket and more importantly, learnt the art to move the ball in the air with decent control.
Stokes” in-the-trenches resolve to turn a vexing challenge into a window of opportunity can also be capsulised by the century he compiled for England Under-19 against India Under-19 in the 2009-10 Under-19 World Cup. It was a regal treat to watch Stokes come into bat with his side tottering at 60 for 4 and essay those crisp strokes that bisected the fielders and rolled across the ground to the boundary boards. In addition to his hundred, the key wickets he snaffled with the ball, lifted the spirits of the side and they won a keenly contested game.
Stokes then made his Test debut in the ill-fated Ashes campaign of 2013-14. It isn”t surprising that just like any other sportsman, he has had his fair share of minor blips. In the Test series against India, Stokes was out for three ducks and was dropped for the game in Southampton. He was not even picked for the 2015 World Cup. However, it always felt as if his path would be paved with riches for the most part of his career.
Yes, he still has to work on certain aspects of his game. Despite swinging it around the corners at a decent pace in the fourth Test, he has to gain control. There is still an inkling that the incoming delivery troubles him as a batsman. On occasions, his aggressive attitude on the field has come in for criticism. However, unmistakably, the charismatic and gifted Stokes has that special ability to draw the national consciousness of fans in a country, where cricket is in need of heroes.