PARTAB RAMCHAND | 23 JULY, 2020
Ben Stokes - To the Limit and Beyond
The comparisons with Ian Botham started some time ago. Now the talk is whether Ben Stokes can surpass his great predecessor’s record whenever he decides to call it quits. The manner in which he has been performing ever since his debut in 2013 gives rise to such speculation which is anything but idle for Stokes has the potential to go to the limit and beyond.
Even by his lofty standards what Stokes achieved in the recent Test against West Indies at Old Trafford was nothing short of spectacular. A match winning tally of 254 runs and three wickets by itself is a tremendous all round performance beyond the reach of most of the legends in the game.
But what has attracted considerable attention is his approach during the two knocks. In the first innings he came in at 81 for three and displayed considerable patience and concentration in stitching together a long partnership with Dom Sibley. He took 255 balls to reach three figures but once England were on their way to a commanding total he shifted gears as only he can hitting fours and sixes at will and his next 73 runs came off just 100 balls.
In the second innings he was promoted to open with England requiring quick runs and Stokes obliged in typical fashion with a swashbuckling 78 off 57 balls with the result that Joe Root could time his declaration perfectly. His incisive medium paced bowling supplemented the attack admirably and fittingly enough he sealed England’s victory – which he had done the most to shape – by taking the last wicket.
More than anything else perhaps it was one single incident in the West Indian second innings that symbolized the dynamism and energy of Stokes. Jermaine Blackwood drove a ball all along the ground towards the vacant long-off area. There being no fielder anywhere near the vicinity Stokes recovered from his follow through and chased the ball all the way to the ropes. He put in a last second dive, intercepted the ball before it touched the boundary line, went over the line, got up and threw the ball back to the bowler’s end. In the same over the indefatigable Stokes had Blackwood caught behind. Little wonder then that Root hailed his match winner as ``Mr Incredible’’
From the moment he returned unscathed from the wreck of England’s Ashes campaign `Down Under’ where they were whitewashed 5-0 Stokes has been earmarked for great things. And over the last few years he has made such dramatic progress that he has emerged as England’s talismanic cricketer. His superhuman feats of last year have been all too well chronicled and are too recent to need any further recounting. His World Cup heroics followed by his storybook feat at Leeds during the Ashes series transformed him into a superstar of international renown and one of the leading cricketers in the world even amidst a surfeit of great players.
Stokes’ recent elevation to the No 1 all rounder in the Test rankings – besides being No 3 in the batsmen list – is hardly surprising. He is the ubiquitous player supreme excelling in all formats of the game. He is the cricketer for the big stage and the higher the stakes the better he is. Already one of the few cricketers to score more than 4000 runs, hit ten hundreds and take over 150 wickets in Tests there is no telling what peaks he could conquer.
He has shone in all countries and all conditions and his 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in January 2016 remains one of the most murderous assaults ever on a cricket field. The stats are really of the eye rubbing and mind boggling variety – 198 balls, 30 fours and eleven sixes, totally dominating a record 399-run sixth wicket partnership with Johny Bairstow.
His swashbuckling batting overshadows his bowling but Stokes is a clever medium pacer who supplements England’s pace attack admirably. Four five-wicket hauls in Tests bear testimony to his bowling skills. Predictably enough he is indispensable in the shorter formats of the game.
The great all rounders have always made the difference between victory and defeat. Gary Sobers, Keith Miller, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and Jacques Kallis have all tilted the scales in favour of their teams with their ubiquitous roles. Stokes is already doing this for England and by the time he quits the scene he bids fair to take his place among the greatest names in the game.
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