When Ben Stokes sat out from the Lord’s Test and instead made frequent appearances at an English court, his heart must have sunk.
He may have dreaded at having lost the opportunity at contributing to this team’s glowing fortunes.
And truth be told, it was indeed strange that England, having gone 2-nil up at the home of cricket, had the familiar presence of the brown-bearded all-rounder missing from its playing XI.
Ben Stokes was missed at Lord’s
After all, one week earlier, he had scalped a 6-for from Birmingham to trigger India’s collapse at Birmingham. It was to be a collapse from which India would not recover.
Once cleared from the impending case, Ben stoked his energy at returning mightily at Trent Bridge. If you were a witness to England’s batting efforts on a Trent Bridge track that favoured both seamers as well as batters, you may have been disappointed at seeing an absolute lack of fight from the home team.
How on earth did England manage 161 on the same surface where India, for the first time ever since arriving in the Tests, went over 300 is something that’s indicative of foul-shot selection and absolute capitulation at reading Bumrah and Pandya.
These, mind you, are bowlers who haven’t yet played 10 Tests apiece.
While Jos Buttler’s valiant hundred enabled the English to muster a face-saving second inning score, the right-hander’s ebullience being the familiar headline-cracking material, it was Ben Stokes, as the only other batsman, who fought brilliantly.
While it would be needlessly overwhelming to suggest that Stokes’ second innings effort was a lonely hero effort, it would also be unbecoming to negate his attempt at denying India the inevitable.
Because, at times, that is what Test Cricket is all about
Denying the winning side the inevitable, isn’t it?
Surely, a decade and a half ago, the likes of Sarwan and Chanderpaul managed to score triumphant hundreds at doing the unthinkable. In scoring 418 for their West Indies, the Guyanese duo managed to obliterate a wild shark called Australia in setting the record for chasing the highest fourth-innings total.
But being asked to chase 520 was for Buttler and Stokes, akin to being challenged to capture a great Blue Whale with bare hands. It wasn’t in the offing.
It wasn’t going to happen
But even in the face of a vitriol launched by India, having had their back up against the wall, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler should be lauded for carrying on the fight.
At this point in time, even if Joe Root- 16 and 13 from Trent Bridge- hired the Scotland Yard to identify areas for improvement in Stokes, he’d fail comprehensively.
This was, should it be forgotten, never going to be easy for Ben Stokes, returning for the Third Test. His predicament was perhaps as severe and cataclysmic as the team against whom he played.
While India’s sorry state of affairs was indicative of the team’s failure, Stokes being involved in a brawl wasn’t hundred percent good news for his own career.
A failure with the bat, a couple of indifferent spells with the ball would’ve handed arsenal to his critics to describe the earnest contributor as a product of frazzled thinking.
Instead, Stokes focused on contributing
And it won’t be wrong to suggest, he ended up doing just that.
Purely from the perspective of a batting improvement, disappointed English fans would take 317, as scored in the fourth inning, any day over England’s first attempt; a soul-crushing 161.
In an age where captains, mental coaches and selectors emphasize on collecting every tiny spec of positive from a defeat, Ben Stokes’ dogged 62 would, in no way, cut a tiny figure when compared to Buttler’s hundred.
While there’s nothing non-entertaining about Buttler’s domineering 106, typical of his flamboyant and unrelenting battering of bowlers- a Test saving knock stroked at a strike rate of 61- Ben Stokes’ attempt was more indicative of restraint.
One of the most beautiful shots that he played was when Ben Stokes applied footwork, accompanied by nimble hand-eye coordination to push Ashwin down the legs for a couple.
A knock of restraint
The glamorous part of Stokes’ effort was that his knock was unglamorous. It wasn’t laced with thunderous boundaries stroked with vehement carnivorous power toward his favourite mid-wicket region. Nor was Ben Stokes’ 62 of 187 deliveries in any way the finest knock that he’s played in his career.
This is if one forgets, arguably the greatest double-hundred scored by an English cricketer in the last two decades- 258 off 198 balls- at Cape Town.
Implicit in Ben Stokes’ 14th Test fifty was his ability to play the likes of Bumrah and Shami late.
You could say, as late as he liked.
It always seemed he was in full control, his body a monument of focus, his aim, being to tire out Indian seamers, that now, with Pandya’s ferocious consistency, finally seems to have made an attack worthy of being celebrated.
When KL Rahul claimed Stokes at the slip cauldron, the left-handers’ expressions said it all.
An inning full of promise, conspiring with a resolute sense of silence and self-preservation, it was so deft in its enormous impact that it probably didn’t even warrant the most obvious question.
Was Ben Stokes’ dismissal the turning point at Trent Bridge?
Prompting a series of ‘what-if’s’, Ben Stokes 275 minute silent vigil at the crease was amongst the non-showiest exhibition of concentration. So much so that whether you were an Indian fan or a fan of the withering English, you were both relieved and sad that Stokes’ departure meant that England’s last blossoming leaf had fallen from the tree.
We are compelled to introspect. Could spending probably another hour have frustrated India?
But in familiar interpretation, the series of questions haunt the mind when a contest’s fate has been sealed. We don’t now what might have happened.
What we do know, however, is that Stokes’ resurgence has upped England’s often-volatile lower-order, something that may have benefitted had Chris Woakes applied himself only a fraction well as England’s controversial all-rounder did.