Let us talk about Ben Stokes
At a time when the world has categorized doctors, nurses and other warriors who have been putting their own lives at stake to protect others into the superhero bracket, another man, far away from syringes, tubes etc, has joined them in continuing the battle of keeping others happy.
Benjamin Andrew Stokes. Christchurch born. Durham made. Left-hand whatever you want. Right arm 100 per cent trier. Can try and stop whatever you want, in whichever way you want.
There is something about him. In the first innings of the second Test against the West Indies at Old Trafford, when the team found themselves 81–3, he put 260 runs for the fourth wicket with Dom Sibley. After the latter fell for 120, he carried on to make 176 runs of his own in 356 balls at a strike-rate of 49..44
Here was a batsman, who had just four-and-half years earlier, cantered his way to 258 against South Africa at Cape Town, in an innings where remarkably he had come out to bat number 7 and put on an incredible display of destructive batting at Newlands.
Those runs came at a strike-rate of 130.30. Here, the 176 runs were made at 49.44.
Adaptability and game awareness- aspects that a coach cannot teach, no matter how much one tries to. It comes with experience, of knowing one’s game, of understanding circumstances where England have been guilty of collapses and by realizing the importance of playing to the requirement of the team.
Those aspects were seen again in the second innings when England needed to bat at a quicker pace to force a result.
Thrown into a diametrically opposite role, this time as an opener, Stokes responded to the challenge with a 57-ball 78 not out consisting of four boundaries and three sixes.
He had one other objective to achieve in the process, which was to ensure England got sufficient runs, with the number of remaining overs enough to need an additional ball if the requirement emerged late in the day.
But Stokes ensured England did not need to go so much further to level the series.
In the 43rd over of the innings, with the West Indies having staged a recovery from being 25/3 to 133/4, Stokes steamed in for a bowl.
Off the first ball, Jermaine Blackwood slapped a back of a length delivery to mid-off, where there was no fielder. The all-rounder showed the kind of commitment he had become famous for, sprinting from the bowling mark, all by himself, saving the ball from touching the rope before throwing it back.
He could not prevent the two batsmen from completing the four, but what he showed in those 20–25 seconds was he cared. The West Indies were far away from winning the game, but Stokes showed that for him, every run mattered. That he did not want another four scored off him.
A couple of balls later, a short ball down the leg side caught Blackwood on his glove and Jos Buttler did well to grab hold of a low catch.
At a time when England needed him to deliver with the bat, he was there. When they needed something with the ball, he was there again.
Cricketers like Stokes don’t run through oppositions. They don’t make triple hundreds regularly. What they do, however, is they inspire. They make you believe when all is lost and when there seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
When the West Indies were steadily crawling their way to victory at Southampton, Stokes brought himself on for one final burst. He could not prevent his side from going down, but it showed how much self-confidence he carried within himself to still pull off an unlikely win.
Players like Stokes also find themselves in the middle of chaos. He was there when the West Indies needed 19 runs to win the World T20 in 2016. He was there when his team needed to get 15 runs to win the World Cup in 2019.
What can one put this, down to? Nature, perhaps. It lures players into the occasion and makes them stand, bang in the middle of the firing line. It demands mental strength from them, wants them to inspire the world.
In Kolkata, he fell just short. In London, he did everything to ensure he and his team did not fall short.
From the low of 2015, where he did not find a place in the England squad that abysmally bowed out of the World Cup to being named Man of the match in the final, Stokes’s cricketing journey had come the full distance.
Then Headingley came and our jaws dropped. Players like him can do that. Australia dared him to go the full monty, he did that and went well beyond. A 135 not out does not usually cause historians to make changes to their old, papered books, only Stokes with an innings so brave, so adventurous and so thrillingly audacious could have made them make those changes.
Stokes has not led England regularly thus far in his career, but even without the armband, he has converted himself into a leader.
Hopefully, he gives the world more such performances to speak because who, currently, does not want to talk about Ben Stokes.