Ben Stokes: Transformation from an under-achiever to a leading all-rounder
Genuine all-rounders are a rare breed in cricket - the players who can merit a selection in the playing XI purely on the basis of their batting or bowling abilities. Very few players in the history of sport will qualify to be considered as true all-rounders – legends like Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Garry Sobers, Imran Khan and Jacques Kallis.
Many captains have tried getting their batsmen to bowl a few overs and their bowlers to take some responsibility with the bat, knowing the balance and flexibility offered to the team by the presence of multi-dimensional players.
At present, there are a few spin bowling all-rounders in world cricket – the likes of Shakib Al Hasan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Hafeez contributing to their teams with both bat and ball – but their seam bowling counterparts are harder to find.
Ask an international captain about the kind of all-rounder they’d want, and chances are high that the response will be – reliable batsman capable of destroying the best of bowling attacks, fast bowler with ability to clock in the range of 90 miles per hour, and an athletic fieldsman. One player who ticks all these is England’s Benjamin Andrew “Ben” Stokes.
The New Zealand-born player is only 25 years old, but has been playing international cricket for close to 6 years. He has seen a roller coaster career with many ups and downs on and off the pitch.
His playing style has inevitably drawn comparisons with Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, and after a long period of under-achieving, it appears that a more mature and experienced Stokes has finally started to do justice to his talent and can aim to aspire to match the lofty heights the former England players reached in their careers.
Gerard Stokes, tha all-rounder’s father is a former New Zealant Rugby League player and his coach as well. Ben was born and raised in Christchurch until the age of 12, after which he moved with his family to England when his father took up a coaching role with Rugby League club Workington Town.
Stokes followed in the footsteps of his father by playing rugby as a schoolboy but decided to pursue the sport of cricket after losing interest in the former. Stokes joined the local Cockermouth Cricket Club at the age of 15 and won the North Lancashire & Cumbria Cricket League with the team.
Making his debut for the Durham one-day team at the age of 17, Stokes dismissed the experienced Mark Ramprakash off just his third delivery in professional cricket. He decided to take a professional contract with Durham and made his first-class debut a year later.
Stokes was selected for the England squad for the 2010 Under-19 World Cup (the squad also included new England Test captain Joe Root) and scored a match-winning century against the India U-19 side which included the likes of KL Rahul, Sandeep Sharma and Mandeep Singh. The player also toured Australia during the 2010-11 Ashes with the England Lions team.
Luck favoured the youngster as injuries to other players helped him get a chance to play for the Durham side in all formats of the game. Stokes established himself as a key member of the team and his all-round performances ensured that he was soon on the radar of the England selectors.
Stokes made his ODI debut for the England side in August 2011 against Ireland and continued to be part of the XI for the following ODI series against India. The player had an uneventful start to his international career as an injury meant he was selected as a pure batsman but was unable to make a significant contribution by the bat.
Disciplinary issues – the player was sent home early on England Lions tour of Australia in February 2013 because of persistent drinking despite warnings – along with injuries and loss of form meant that Stokes’ participation with the national team was limited for a couple of years.
He found his way back in the team and made his Test debut in 2013-14 Ashes in Australia. While England were thrashed 0-5 by the hosts in the series, Stokes emerged as one of the better players for the visiting side and was tipped by many as a future England star.
He scored a fighting 120 in his second Test (third game of the series) and had bowling figures of 6-99 in the first innings of the fifth Test.
Locker injury followed by low phase in career
While Stokes’ talent and potential made everyone take note, there were question marks on his temperament. With a history of disciplinary issues, he did his reputation no good in West Indies in 2014 by breaking his wrist after angrily punching a dressing-room locker following a first ball duck in a T20I.
The injury resulted in Stokes being ruled out from the 2014 T20 World Cup.
Stokes was part of the England squad for the 2014 series against India at home and the Sri Lanka tour, but his performances were below par. While Stokes was available for selection for the 2015 World Cup squad, he found himself out of favour with the selectors because of his underwhelming performances.
Comeback sees start of potential converting into performances
Stokes was recalled to the side after the World Cup and after an average show against West Indies, he made a century at Lord’s against New Zealand and followed it up with a good show in all three formats against the Kiwis.
England won the 2015 Ashes at home, and Stokes enjoyed success with the bat and his second innings bowling figures of 6-36 helped England clinch the series in the fourth Test.
Stokes made the world take note of his destructive batting with a brilliant knock of 258 off just 198 deliveries in the second Test in South Africa in January 2016. Coming in to bat to face the hat-trick delivery from Kagiso Rabada, with the visitors in a spot of bother at 167-4, Stokes started a brilliant counter-attack to score the second fastest double century and fastest 250 in Test cricket history.
His partnership of 399 with Jonny Bairstow is the highest for sixth wicket in Test cricket. Stokes scored 130 runs in the first session of day two of the match – which is the record for maximum runs scored by a batsman in the first session of any day of a match in Test cricket.
Highs and Lows of the 2016 T20 World Cup
The 2016 T20 World Cup was a mixed bag for Stokes which saw England progress to the final of his first ICC event, only to end in a heartbreak. Stokes was instrumental in England qualifying for the final, with a spell of 3-26 against New Zealand in the semifinal.
The final saw England face West Indies, and England put on 155-9 after being asked to bat first. In reply, England seemed to have kept the run-chase in check with West Indies left with a stiff task of 19 off the final over to win the game.
Captain Eoin Morgan gave the ball to Stokes for the final over and what followed was Carlos Brathwaite smashing the bowler for 4 consecutive sixes off the first four deliveries of the over to win the title for West Indies.
Apart from having to settle for the runners-up medal, the nature of finish to the game gutted Stokes, who admitted he felt ‘the whole world had come down on him’. The player, who was given plenty of support by the cricketing fraternity, showed great character and pushed himself to learn from the game and use it as motivation to excel in future games.
Increased responsibility on the Bangladesh and India Tours
In the absence of regular ODI captain Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler was given the captaincy for the ODI series in Bangladesh and Stokes was appointed the vice-captain. The all-rounder impressed in the first series with increased responsibility and he scored a century in the first game (his maiden ODI century) as England won the series 2-1.
In the following Test series, Stokes won the man of the match award in the first game for his match-winning all-round performance.
England toured India next and Stokes scored a brilliant 128 in the first Test match as England finished the game with a credible draw. England went on to lose the remaining 4 matches in the series and the following ODI and T20I series, but Stokes continued to enhance his importance to the English with some valuable contributions with both bat and ball.
Ben Stokes’ importance to the English cricket was illustrated by the decision to appoint the 25-year-old as the new vice-captain of Test side and is tipped by many to be a future England captain. The youngster has shown a willingness to learn and improve, and has been working with England psychologist Mark Bawden. This has helped him control his temper.
The player’s all-round skills haven’t gone unnoticed by teams in the lucrative Indian Premier League as well, and a bidding war is expected when his name comes up in the upcoming auction on February 20. Experience in the Indian playing conditions, as well as interaction with leading cricketers in the world in the dressing room, will only help Stokes grow as a player.
If he can keep himself injury free and away from controversies, Stokes has all the ingredients to go on to become one of England’s all-time greats in all three formats of the game. With maturity, experience and increased responsibility to add to his no-nonsense attitude, Stokes will look to continue the enhance his game and develop into a world-class all-rounder.