You know you have already arrived on the big stage where fans, regardless of wherever they may be, begin Google-searching your name with self-styled queries.
A world of expectations
“Is he the best all rounder in the game?” “Is he the best current English batsman?”
If you were to actually gauge his popularity in an age where boisterously loud music, multi-coloured streaks, peculiarly-bright jersey designs and weird shoe colours form part of a cricketing ensemble, then you’ll find him to be a natural fit. In fact, even a hit.
But if you were to dig out his name featuring in a list of outstanding English legends of all time, then it may not be there as of now.
He possesses an enviable T20 strike of 136, in addition to an electrifying ODI strike-rate of 96. It takes him less effort to flick a half volley down the legs into the stands than what it takes him to work up his fitness for the next big series. He has got the big shots in his book.
And his mere presence in an English side- whether featuring in a svelte line-up including Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy or teaming alongside Anderson, Woakes and Broad inspires confidence. With 9 international hundreds, 160 wickets, he’s earned a fancy comparison with England’s heritage cricketers- Freddie Flintoff and Sir Botham.
How good Ben Stokes really is?
But does Ben Stokes really possess that longevity and attitude to walk the long mile for English Cricket?
There may be fewer questions regarding his potential. But there’s this underwhelming experience that stems from a cricketer who was naturally expected to share the bulwark of a stubbornly inconsistent English side but has been breathing away from the 22-yard action in recent times.
In the past one year, Ben Stokes has sat out for more games than he has changed with his familiar swatting of the bat. His performances in the recent IPL were miserable. Actually, any loving English fan, on a good-mood day would at the most, mark them, as average.
Before he could even make sense of the great occasion that was Pakistan meeting England, in England, he suffered a serious hamstring injury. This has made him miss the current series and certainly cast a shadow over his availability for the next ODI series against Australia.
Does this seem like a similar picture from the last year?
It might. One just needs to rewind to what happened before arguably the most one-sided Ashes loss that England featured in. Why was a starry all-round talent, that was supposed to have been on the flight to Australia, sitting down on account of a temperamental outburst in an English pub?
Ben Stokes may get legions of female-admirers weak in their knees, but he is surely not a disciplinarian’s delight.
But apart from being involved in temperamental outbursts, the cricketer going as far as refusing to shake hands with Bangladesh cricketers in an ODI contest, Ben Stokes has earned some credible feats.
Ben Stokes at his best
Few others in the game have managed to rattle South Africa as badly as Stokes has. Even fewer have registered a double-hundred score in a Test sporting a very T20-like strike rate. When Stokes tethered Rabada, Morkel, Morris and Elgar, none predicted that 258 runs would be compiled off just 198 balls.
Stokes, given the follies of a fashionable modern cricketer in an age where sportsmen are renowned for both tattoos and sixes hit, can surely end England’s search for a fascinating all-rounder who can carry forward the precious legacy of a Botham or Flintoff.
But, at the same time, Stokes, who possesses the exact same bowling average as Flintoff and has an even better batting average than his famous compatriot, lacks the temperament to stay unflustered. Or at least, that’s what seems in his 4-year journey, thus far.
How else would you justify him losing cool to a very child-like Marlon Samuels, whose salute irked the cricketer to turn all angry and red?
For a cricketer who can deliver the perfect yorker out of nowhere as also a few flowery expletives, one cannot doubt Ben Stokes’s passion for the game.
Perhaps, Cricket needs a calmer Ben Stokes
But often, passion needs application. And mounting rage or anger needs to be channelised into a power that can drive one from within.
One wonders if the fiery Ben Stokes a passionate cricketer who often falls victim to a self-cultivated web of trappings could do better with some introspection?
Could there be any wisdom, therefore for Ben Stokes- 1800 ODI runs, 2579 Test runs already- to practice some self-control?
When the legendary Freddie Flintoff made beer-chugging a bit of a habit which led to a loss of focus and optimal utilization of his talent, he sought refuge in the treadmill.
Could Ben Stokes- a keeper of England’s hope, a self-styled preserver of the great legacy of English cricket, one that he’s proud of representing- seek wisdom in the art of self-preservation?
The same way cricket even today dearly misses Shane Watson; precisely the aspect of what ‘could’ve been’ had Watson strengthened his vulnerable frame, it misses the prospect of Ben Stokes delivering on a great potential.
Unless one sought any meaning in seeing Stokes missing out on all he can gather the same way an electrifying Gayle or De Villiers miss out on key contests on account of injuries or other concerns. For now, the future of Ben Stokes rests solely on Ben Stokes.