Ben Stokes, the England all-rounder, underwent a particularly challenging period between 2016 and 2018, with on and off-field issues plaguing him. But, being a mentally-strong character, he broke through them and bounced back in spectacular fashion in 2019.
Last year, he was in sensational form and, with a clear-thinking head, determination and phenomenal ability, won England a couple of big tournaments and series. For his efforts, he won the ICC Cricketer of the Year award for 2019.
Luckily for England, he has continued his purple patch into 2020.
With the coronavirus pandemic bringing a halt to live cricket action, it is the ideal time to reflect on what has been a special last 16 months for Stokes. In this article we look at three sensational performances by him:
#3 84 not out, 2019 World Cup final, Lords
The first brilliant Stokes performance to make this list came in the 2019 World Cup final. Held in London, England, the match was one of the most entertaining and nail-biting matches in ODI history.
Batting first in the contest, New Zealand put a competitive score on the board (241-8), before reducing England to 86-4 after 23.1 overs.
But England still had plenty of firepower left in the tank and, soon enough, Ben Stokes (84 not out off 98) and Jos Buttler (59 off 60) forged a valuable partnership of 110 runs. They played smart cricket, rotating the strike nicely and hitting the odd powerfully struck boundary. While Buttler scored at close to a run a ball, Stokes was the anchor for England.
When Buttler was eventually dismissed, the equation was 46 runs off 32 balls. Despite the loss, Stokes kept his cool – every stroke made with determination and a keen awareness of the situation – despite wickets falling around him. He decided to take the game deep and keep his wicket intact going into the last two overs or so; then launched a final onslaught.
The first part of his plan worked, for he was still at the crease when England required 22 off nine balls. That is when Stokes showed his ability to shift gears in the blink of an eye. Off the next ball, Stokes smashed the ball to deep mid-wicket, where Trent Boult caught the ball but in the same movement stepped on the boundary rope, making it six runs.
With the suspense building, Stokes smashed two consecutive sixes in the final over (including a lucky deflection for four extra runs) which was enough to get his team into a Super Over (which they won).
Without Stokes, England would definitely have lost the World Cup final. To add substance to this statement, in the last five overs Stokes scored his runs at a strike-rate of 283 runs per 100 balls (from a total of 12 balls), while the rest of the team did at 80 (a total of 16 balls).
NB: the above video is courtesy of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
# 2: 135 not out, 3rd Ashes Test, 2019 Headingley
When England No. 11 Jack Leach joined his comrade Ben Stokes (on 61 at the time) in the third 2019 Ashes Test in Headingley, with England still needing 73 runs for victory, it looked like a lost cause. The odds were stacked against the batsmen.
Firstly, they were batting on a seaming pitch at Headingley against a world-class Australian bowling attack. Moreover, Leach had not looked entirely convincing in the first innings of the match (he scored one off six balls).
But with Stokes at the crease nothing is impossible. The star batsman proceeded to play a sensational innings that will be talked about for eons.
Clearly deciding that attack was the best option, Stokes struck two excellent sixes straight down the ground. Then, on 77, Stokes had the temerity to play a reverse-sweep, which sailed into the crowd for a maximum.
The left-hander, sensibly, decided to shield most of the strike from Leach.
Scoring at a quick pace, Stokes brought up his century with the England score on 326-9 after 121.1 overs (needing 33 to win). But there was no celebration from Stokes, who valued the team win to be more important than personal milestones.
Using the slog-sweep with great success, Stokes (and Leach with his solid defence when facing deliveries) helped England move closer to the target - until it got to the point where England supporters started to believe a win was possible.
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Capitalising on some luck in the final stages of the game –Australia missed a run-out opportunity and a review chance – Stokes carved the ball for four in the 126th over to seal a magnificent win and end up with 135 not out.
When the ball reached the boundary the stadium erupted. When Stokes realised what he had done, he let out a huge roar of triumph as all the adrenaline of the past few hours burst out.
# 1: 3/35, 2nd Test, 2020 Cape Town
Because Stokes is one of the world’s most talented and destructive batsmen, one does get the impression that some opposition teams underestimate his bowling. But that is a big mistake. The England all-rounder has the combination of qualities – pace, reverse-wing, fitness and the ability to extract extra bounce - that, when used right, makes him a match-winner.
One of those times was in the 2020 New Year’s Test in Cape Town against South Africa. In the test, South Africa were set an imposing target of 438 runs in at least 147 overs. They decided, instead of going for a win, to try and bat out the overs, thus drawing the match. And so the hosts batted and batted… and batted.
When Stokes was summoned by his captain Joe Root to bowl, it was just inside the last hour on day five. The problem was, South Africa still had three wickets in hand and two capable batsmen, Dwaine Pretorious and Vernon Philander, at the crease.
Despite bowling 19 overs and having been in the field for 129 overs, Stokes found extra reserves of energy and topped the 145 kmph mark. He was determined to win the match for his team. Helpfully, Stokes found reverse-swing and troubled Pretorious in particular with it. Unsurprisingly, it was not long before he captured Pretorious’ wicket and Anrich Nortje’s on the following ball, making the score 241-9 after 133.4 overs.
The latter wicket elicited roars from the crowd who appreciated Stokes’ effort. The players stormed over to Stokes and embraced him where he was sitting on the ground. But he had to get up on his feet, as the job was not done.
With few minutes left in the test, victory was in England’s sight. Could they finish it off? You bet they would. They did. Two overs later, Stokes struck the fatal blow when he produced a ball that rose sharply and smashed Philander’s glove on the way through to the slips.
Let’s hope there are many more special performances to come from him in the future.