Botham, Flintoff, Stokes - The Lineage is Complete
Every now and then England produces a player who is the attention grabber around the cricketing world not only for his skills with bat and ball, but also for being an endearing character and a larger than life personality. In the late 70s and 80s there was the one and only Ian Terence Botham who has an Ashes series named after him. Obviously there could be no immediate successor to the dynamic match winner after he played his last Test in 1992. But in the first decade of the new millennium came along Freddie Flintoff who was finally acknowledged as the next Botham especially after he played a leading role in England’s memorable Ashes triumph in 2005.
These days it can be said that Ben Stokes is a worthy successor to these two great all rounders complete by being a likeable character and a larger than life personality. And like the two others before him it has not been all smooth sailing for Stokes. Botham had off the field problems and so did Flintoff. And after Stokes got into a scuffle outside a Bristol night club in 2017 it appeared that a promising career would be over before fulfillment. He missed the tour of Australia in 2017 – 18 as an investigation was on into the affray. His temperament was questioned and critics said success had gone to his head and that he had got too big for his boots.
Cut to July 2019 and Stokes is man of the match in the enthralling World Cup final. Not only that he immediately apologises for the ball striking his outstretched bat freakishly and being deflected all the way to the boundary to give him and England four vital runs. Reports have it that he told the umpires that the additional runs need not be added to the total but the officials were helpless under the rules. As he has famously been quoted ''I said to Kane (Williamson) I will be apologising for that the rest of my life.’’
In his eight year old international career Stokes has had his ups and downs but has emerged as a match winner in all formats of the game. If one has to pinpoint one major achievement it would have to be his electrifying 258 off just 198 balls against South Africa in the Cape Town Test in January 2016. His 200 which came up off only 163 balls is the second fastest double hundred in Test cricket. And just three months later he experienced perhaps his most mortifying moment in international cricket. Required to defend 18 off the last over of the World T-20 final against West Indies at Kolkata Stokes somehow conceded four sixes off successive balls with Carlos Brathwaite being a most unlikely hero.The photograph of Stokes lying hunched on the field broken and disconsolate was one of the images of the year.
But then Stokes is made of sterner stuff. Temperamentally very strong he is able to shrug off setbacks and disappointments and concentrate on the task ahead. Moreover he has this rare ability to realize his mistakes. As everyone is aware admitting your mistake is the first step towards rectifying it. Andrew Strauss England's director of cricket recently dwelt upon this aspect of Stokes. He recalled that after the Bristol nightclub incident he went to the police station and spent some time with his wife Clare while waiting for him to come out of the prison cell. ''What struck me as soon as he came out was actually his character because he stood up and said, ''I have got this horribly wrong. I apologize sincerely for what I have done.’’ From that moment on Strauss said I thought things would be better for him.
Stokes is now a more rounded player in that he has reined in his aggressive tendencies with the bat since his return to the side after the Bristol incident. For example, he finished the World Cup as England’s third highest run scorer with an aggregate of 465 runs but his five fifties included three at a strike rate of below 100 including his 98 ball 84 not out in the drama filled final.
His greater achievements with the bat do not camouflage his skills with the ball for Stokes is a more than handy fast medium swing and seam bowler. At 28 he has time on his hands to emulate the feats of his two illustrious predecessors and leave his own mark on English cricket.