By George Willoughby
England all-rounder Ben Stokes has had a whirlwind of a month both on and off the cricket field.
Cleared with affray just over two weeks ago, the 27-year old found himself selected for England’s third, and potentially series winning test match against India.
Inevitably with all criminal cases involving a famous sports-player, the mainstream media place a heavy emphasis on belittling the player in question. The same can be said about their treatment of Stokes with their titles focused on the verdict of his trial and any potential repercussions he may face. They choose to ignore the fact that the national cricket team is getting a world-class player back available to play in a crucial match.
To name a few, one headline mentions the ‘Big Bash’ and how Stokes could be ‘frozen’ out of it, another shows journalists still disputing his not-guilty verdict by suggesting he should be banned for a year and even earn the ‘forgiveness of the crowd’. Former England captain Michael Vaughn portrays a contrasting viewpoint, but the general consensus from the media is one of negativity.
Stokes, in his return to test match cricket has put in disciplined performances when the Indian bowling attack continued to expose the frailties of England’s top order.
However, we saw a different side to Ben Stokes’ play, especially his batting in the second innings. Despite all the off-field drama, the left-hander refused to give his wicket away cheaply much to the contrast of England’s top order. We associate Ben Stokes with explosive hitting and fast paced scoring in all formats of the game.
Such slandering from the mainstream media created doubt as to whether he could persevere at the crease in test cricket. Himself and Jos Buttler put on a resilient 169 run partnership which saved England from an embarrassing defeat.
Buttler took the headlines with his magnificent hundred, but Stokes’ 62 off 187 deliveries showed grit, tons of fight and proved as to why he is one of England’s best. Things didn’t go quite as well for him with the ball, but throughout his career he has been the man to turn to when a partnership needs to be broken. He’s had a habit of bowling that magic ball to dismiss a set batsman and he’s the closest all-rounder we have had to the great Andrew Flintoff.
The England selectors back him, coach Trevor Bayliss backs him, captain Joe Root backs him, but it seems the media have a vested interest away from his phenomenal playing ability.
Stokes was able to repay that faith with another excellent performance in the fourth test. In a low scoring affair – with neither side able to post over 300 in a single innings, the batsmen valuing their wicket was of the upmost of importance.
Over the course of two England innings, the 27-year old logged 53 total runs off 189 deliveries. Even with wickets falling around him and a spinning fourth-day pitch, the left-handed bat anchored England’s scoring and how India would have liked one of their players to do the same.
India were looking in great shape chasing down their target of 245 with Virat Kholi and Ajinkya Rahane spearheading the reply. But, the rest of team crumbled with the last six India batters falling for a disappointing 51 runs. Without a doubt, if a player was to replicate Stokes’ determined play, then Kholi’s men would have won the test and gone into the final match with the scores perfectly poised at 2-a-piece.
As we know, this wasn’t the case and England went onto convincingly wrap up the series against the number one ranked test match side in the world.
Statistically, even with all the off-field drama and not featuring in the second test, Stokes was one of England’s most consistent performers. He ranked top-10 for runs scored, and also was sixth in total wickets taken with 14.
Despite the victory, the top order issues that were present before the series have been exacerbated with the announcement of Alistair Cook’s retirement. Keaton Jennings struggled for runs, and so to Jonny Bairstow who has only managed to muster together 39 runs in his last six appearances with the bat.
What this dramatic series has shown is that you can depend on Ben Stokes with both the bat and ball. The team will be travelling to Sri Lanka on a multi-format tour with Stokes expected to play a vital role across the several formats.
The way the media treated Stokes following his court case result was disappointing, but his performances against India should have gone a long way in proving the doubters wrong.
He is currently one of England and the world’s best, and at 27, the sky is the limit.