Into his ninth year in international cricket since making his debut in 2011, Ben Stokes has already established himself as England’s batting spine.
He got England’s back when all seemed lost and took the team home when defeat stared them in the face.
Be it the final of the 2019 cricket World Cup or that incredible Ashes Test when Stokes single-handedly took his team over the line at a sun-baked Headingly.
While that innings of 135 not out is one of the best, if not the best ever, to have been played on the hallowed turf, it catapulted New Zealand-born Stokes into the pantheon of greats.
English all-round greats
While Sir Ian Botham continues to be the most celebrated all-rounder to have graced English cricket, there have been a good many to have represented the Three Lions.
The likes of Chris Lewis, Dermot Reeves, Dominic Cork, and Paul Collingwood were given a fair run in top-line cricket in English colors but they couldn’t achieve the level of greatness that Sir Ian did.
However, it was Andrew Flintoff who came the closest to being compared with Sir Ian. Almost similar in physicality, with broad shoulders, strong arms and a mop of blonde hair, the burly Flintoff drew parallels with the great man following his exploits in 2005 Ashes series.
Having picked up a bagful of wickets and being among the leading run-scorers for England in the series, Freddie, as he was known by his teammates, was voted the Man of the Series.
Responding to a video shared from the official Twitter handle of England Cricket Board (ECB) where Freddie is seen steaming in to former Australia captain Ricky Ponting, the latter responded that it was the best over of fast bowling he had ever faced in his cricketing career. “Best over I ever faced. Class Reverse swing at 90-odd mph,” Punter tweeted.
It was feared that Freddie’s exit from the game would leave a big hole in English cricket. And, so it turned out to be for a while as England struggled to produce an impact player of his calibre.
Ben Stokes next on the list
However, that was before a certain Ben Stokes stepped into the scene. Though initially he had to fight for a place in the English XI with the likes of Chris Woakes and other all-rounders that were being trialed at the time, he became a regular feature after giving ample evidence of his all-round potential in the 2013-14 Ashes series.
Ben Stokes picked up a career-best 6-99 in the first innings of the fifth Test and finished the series as England’s third highest scorer with 279 runs. He also had 15 scalps to his name, the highest, in the series.
However, it was in the 2019 World Cup that Stokes really came of age as a cricketer. World cricket saw him in full flight in limited overs colours, as his all-round skills were the key to propelling England to the final. His aggressive 79 off 54 balls against India in a round-robin fixture pushed the England score to an imposing 338 and was critical to the latter posting a comfortable 31-run win.
But it was his spectacular 84 in the final that put him in league with the greatest in the game. Anchoring the English chase with 242 to get, Stokes held fort and ensured the game ended in a tie at the end of the regulation 50 overs. England lifted the trophy on the basis of a boundary countback rule after the Super Over couldn’t break the deadlock.
If the incredible Headingly knock later that year only reaffirmed Stokes’s status as one of the best in the game in all formats, his attacking unbeaten half-century in the second innings helped England level the ongoing three-match Test series against West Indies.
The debate on the best all-rounder in contemporary cricket also seems settled for now, as Ben Stokes has overtaken Windies captain Jason Holder to become the top-ranked Test all-rounder in ICC rankings.
Rankings apart, Ben Stokes’s stocks are spiralling up and his cricketing feats have assured him a place among the legends.
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