Ever since Stokes won the World Cup for England, he's had an almost indiscernible swagger, as if he knows he has the world at his feet. This attitude, which flirts with the line separating arrogance and confidence, has elevated Ben Stokes' game to such an extent that he is already one of the greatest all-rounders cricket has ever seen, much like Botham and Flintoff.
Bumble Lloyd once said that Botham would never take advice from someone he viewed as inferior to him from a cricketing standpoint. Similarly, Flintoff once lashed out at Michael Atherton, calling him a 'f-----g p---k' for questioning Alastair Cook's approach to batting.
And now Ben Stokes, England's guardian angel for all seasons, is exhibiting many of the same traits.
Ben Stokes' controversy-riddled international career
In 2012, Ben Stokes was arrested while under the influence on a night out. In 2013, he was dismissed from the England 'A' squad for enjoying his whiskey a little too much.
And then in 2014, Ben Stokes punched a locker in the dressing room, breaking his hand and being ruled out of the T20 World Cup. Two years later, he made a return to the tournament, only to get picked apart by Carlos Brathwaite in the final over.
In 2017, with the bite of metal on his knuckles all too fresh, Ben Stokes opted for a softer target - the face of a young gentleman outside a nightclub in Bristol (he was later acquitted of affray). The all-rounder missed the Ashes series in that year, but came back in 2019 to orchestrate perhaps the greatest heist in Test history.
In 2020, the 29-year-old directed a few choice words at a fan after being dismissed for a single-digit score, and was caught on camera calling the spectator a 'f-----g four-eyed c--t'. Stokes then went on to captain the England side and put on one of the most complete performances ever in the longest format of the game.
The pattern is crystal clear, is it not? Ben Stokes thrives on being the man in the spotlight, the flawed genius who finds a tinge of sympathy among the masses, the antagonist who simply has to be cherished. But what he also thrives on is the fact that no one else in the cricketing world ticks all the boxes on the field like he does.
There is no doubt that Ben Stokes is a cut above the rest
When Joe Root missed the 1st Test against West Indies to attend the birth of his second child, Ben Stokes was made captain and wasted no time in asserting his authority.
The stand-in skipper dropped England's second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, Stuart Broad, to play Mark Wood, who had played only 15 Tests in his career. The veteran fast bowler lamented the fact, and said that he was 'shocked, angry, and frustrated'.
When asked about the decision to drop Broad after a humiliating loss in the Test, Stokes didn't express any regret, stating that England were glad to be good enough to leave a pacer of Broad's stature out.
"I don't regret leaving Stuart Broad out, and we are fortunate to leave someone like him out. I would be upset if he didn't show the passion he did in that interview," Ben Stokes stated without restraint.
When West Indies stitched together a good partnership in the final innings of the 2nd Test, the onus was once again upon Ben Stokes to get his time back into the game. After dismissing Jermaine Blackwood with a vicious bumper, he did little by way of celebration. The vice-captain glared at one of his teammates and exclaimed, 'What'd I tell ya?'
When he came down the track to pump West Indies' best Test bowler, Kemar Roach over long-off, he didn't so much as acknowledge his batting partner Joe Root. Stokes trundled back to his crease and nodded in the general direction of his captain, ready to face the next ball.
Ben Stokes knows that he is a legend in the making, if he isn't already one
Ben Stokes has been at the forefront of all of the Three Lions' great victories in the recent past, and he is well aware of his importance to the team.
A year after he was acquitted of all charges regarding the Bristol incident and months before the 2019 World Cup, the New Zealand-born cricketer stated that he'll always carry the experience with him and use it as motivation to write new chapters in his book.
"I don't want to be remembered as the guy who had a fight in the street. I want to do things on the field to be remembered for. If we win the World Cup, that becomes the first paragraph... doesn't it?" Ben Stokes asked.
A book on Ben Stokes' life will feature many such paragraphs, but the ones which he says will be at the latter end of the book will be as important as those in the beginning. They all make up the complex figure that Ben Stokes is, and to not recognise the value each side of him adds to the other would be a foolish mistake.
Ben Stokes knows he is indispensable to the England team and knows that he is one of the best all-rounders of all time, and that's what makes him great.
Published 23 Jul 2020, 12:58 IST