Opinion: How Ben Stokes reminds us of Yuvraj Singh
'Affray'– an instance of a group fighting in a public place that disturbs the peace. According to the English law, a maximum punishment of 3 years can be carried out against a person found guilty of it. The current BBC cricketer of the year, Ben Stokes has seen it all. From being charged with affray over a drunken brawl in the wee hours of 25th September in 2017 to being celebrated as the golden boy of the country late in 2019. Funny, how off the field antics can change an image and ultimately performances on a cricketing pitch.
But haven't we witnessed a similar phenomenon before? Not once, but twice? A phenomenon that goes by the name of Yuvraj Singh. A kid, unable to land the heroic blow, winning hearts of millions within a space of 4 years. If the 2007 and the 2011 World Cup winning sides had a stamp of authority, it was because of Yuvraj Singh. But there's more to the comparisons that just their herculean roles in landing ICC trophies and walking away with their respective most valuable player awards.
This silly game of cricket has undergone a colossal upheaval between 2011 and 2019. But if you were to weigh Singh's effort (362 runs and 15 wickets in the 2011 World Cup) against Stokes' 2019 madness (465 runs and 7 wickets), even the best cricketing pundits would find hard to choose one of them. Singh's 3 man-of-the-match awards, including a hundred and two wickets at Chepauk versus West Indies, was undoubtedly the highlight of his 2011 WC blitz. Stokes, on the other hand, produced invaluable knocks against South Africa, India, and in the final against New Zealand to go along with his crucial breakthroughs with the ball throughout. But one performance that stood out was his 89 runs and 2 wickets for 12 runs in the game against the Proteas which signalled a special player finally living up to the hype at the highest stage.
Big match players have a habit of sparking off things when wickets dry up or the runs are leaking. And it's not necessarily with the willow or a ball in hand. Stokes' diving back-pedaling one-handed catch in the deep to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo at the World Cup opener was reminiscent of Singh's awe-inspiring take at the point position to dismiss Graeme Smith in the 2002 Champions Trophy semi-final. Both these catches spurred their respective teams to important victories by derailing South Africa's chase.
But it wasn't easy to take over the world with their stupendous performances. Rahul Dravid's decision to hand over the final over to Yuvraj Singh against England in the sixth ODI at The Oval proved to a stepping stone in the left-hander's career. After being hit for five consecutive sixes by Dimitri Mascarenhas, the southpaw vowed to return the favour someday. And boy, did he do that in style! He hit Stuard Broad for six sixes in an over in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa to let his bat do all the talking. Post that innings, he mentioned how personal banter between him and Andrew Flintoff had instigated his inner 'Mascarenhas' to rattle the young fast bowler and return the favour to the English side in kind and with interest.
Stokes, who was rated extremely highly in the domestic arena, was handed the hardest job in cricket by captain Eoin Morgan in 2016 - defending less than 20 runs against a rampant West Indies' T20 strokemakers in the final of the World Cup. Carlos Brathwaite made a mockery of what Ben Stokes had to offer. His short of good length deliveries landed over the ropes successively to hand a second T20 world title to West Indies. England's desperate wait for an ICC title was blown away inside 4 balls. Stokes failed.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he stated:
“I thought, ‘I’ve just lost the World Cup. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do. It took me so long to get back on my feet. I didn’t want to get back up. It was like the whole world had come down on me. There weren’t any good things going through my mind. It was just complete devastation.”
The exasperation of letting down his mates, country, and fans took a toll on Ben Stokes and tested him to the core which ended up at the drunken brawl, resulting in a loss of his vice-captaincy of the national side.
Batting with a firm grip, both all-rounders have a high backlift which enables them to put their entire body weight behind the ball and time it to perfection. A Yuvraj Singh cover drive has class written all over it, so does a straight drive from Ben Stokes which ends up showing the bat-maker's name in the follow-through. Against spin, a slog sweep by either of the players usually ended up in the stands. The interesting thing to notice is that despite having a high backlift, both batsmen, somehow, have that extra second to place and time the ball at will. The hand-eye coordination seen while flicking the leather off the pads is a delight to many. However, one shot that has left Yuvraj Singh in awe is Stokes' reverse stroke to spinners for a six. The England player repeated his unorthodox strokeplay against India against the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and then against Nathan Lyon in the third Ashes Test at Headingly which can easily be called an extension of Stokes' genius from the World Cup final.
With some memorable performances behind their backs, the two classy all-rounders ended up inviting offers of INR 14.5 and 16 crores from IPL teams was like a passing of the baton from one swashbuckling all-rounder to other. It's about time that a 'Summer of 2019' song was released by the English fans. From playing major roles in their home World Cup wins to become the poster boys, both players successfully won hearts with their fearless strokeplay.
An enthralling summer (IPL, The Ashes and the World Cup) with three different formats, three of the world's biggest tournaments in a span of five months, probably gave us a summer and a player to remember.