At Chittagong, Bangladesh were close to pulling off an upset in the very first Test match against England, two weeks back needing just 33 to win on the last day with two wickets in hand but then it was Ben Stokes who spoiled the party.
As soon as the athletic all-rounder started off the proceedings on the day, the commentators could not help but spurt out, “Can he be the man for England?” Well, he sure was. He sent back Taijul Islam and then Shafiul Islam to hand his side an emphatic 22-run victory.
For his heroics, that is 85 in the second innings of the game and 6 crucial wickets he was awarded the man-of-the-match and is now all set to be the X-factor for his team in the upcoming series against India which starts from November 9.
After the Test in Chittagong, captain Alastair Cook heaped praises on the Durham all-rounder saying any team would love to have him on the side.
“I now say it every single time we speak about him,” said Cook. “The guy is that x-factor cricketer which every side would love to have. And he balances our side and gives us options. The one thing that he has done over the last year is to improve his method against spin.”
A look into the past
It all started off for Stokes in the summer of 2013/2014 when England were hammered in the Ashes. Australia first pocketed the Test series whitewashing England 5-0 and then beat them again in the One-Day International 4-1. The Three Lions were once again taken to the gallows in the T20 series and they returned home a heart broken side. Only Stokes was hailed as a star of the future by the English media who had lambasted the other members of the team.
He was one of the rarest things in English cricket, a true all rounder who was naturally combative and not one to bow down to confrontations. His maiden Test hundred in Perth as a No.6 when England were already down 2-0 in that Ashes spoke volumes of his character. He delivered emphatically when others failed to put bat to ball. After the innings, he became quite a sensation to people back home.
He was an all-rounder who was moving rapidly in the path of progress but then there was the dismal summer of 2014 which blocked off his way. He featured in 12 innings for England in all formats with 43 runs at an average of 3.60. He also scored six ducks during that time. He also suffered a badly broken wrist after a useless attempt to use his dressing room locker as a punching bag in the West Indies. The incident also kept Stokes out of the World T20 in Bangladesh.
And it’s in Bangladesh only where he returned to play his last Test series. He knows the conditions in India too will be quite the same and will be up and ready to deliver against the World No.1 Test team.
Can Stokes strike gold in India?
This will be Stoke’s first time in India for a full-fledged Test series. Earlier in March-April he was in the T20 team which reached the finals of the World T20. He doesn’t have too many happy memories of the tour as Carlos Brathwaite had hammered him for four consecutive sixes to give West Indies the trophy.
But that is a thing of the past and Stokes has come a long way from the incident. He has matured in the past few months and is coming good with both the ball and the bat.He would also be quite aware of the pitches in the sub-continent now and would ideally do what he does best, mixing deliveries up.
The 25-year-old can at times also generates extra pace off dead tracks which can surprise a lot of batsmen and that he would want to have this as his main weapon. For the record, he has 71 Test wickets from 27 games at an average of 33.32.
Stokes’s batting too has improved in the last few months. He averages a fair 33.12 in Tests and in January this year smashed a brilliant 258 against South Africa in Cape Town. In total, he has 1557 Test runs.
What’s most impressive is that Stokes is also a brilliant fielder. He is a live wire everywhere a captain puts him and latches onto almost anything that tries to fly past.
Against India though, he does not have a record to boast for. In 2014 in the two Tests that he played he failed to get off the mark in three innings. He, however, picked up seven wickets with the ball during those outings.
Having let go of the series in Bangladesh (1-1), England would want to make amends here and Stokes would be gearing up for the battle ahead.