His status as the single biggest influencer in the England line-up across formats is undisputed. A game-changer with the bat and ball, he’s been the architect of many famous wins for his country.
Hence, to not have him around in the dressing room for the better part of the ongoing Test series against Pakistan is a serious blow to England.
Word is out that the Durham all-rounder has been relieved of any further participation in the Test series due to ‘a family matter’. He will soon fly out to New Zealand, the country of his birth where his father and mother live.
His exit comes at a crucial juncture in the three-Test rubber. England, which pipped Pakistan in the closely-fought first Test at the Emirates Old Trafford, would have dearly wanted their talisman to be around for the next two.
While it is a setback for England, Pakistan, many would say, has been handed an unexpected boost through Stokes’s exit. Down 0-1 in the series, Azhar Ali’s men certainly wouldn’t mind facing an England without their biggest match winner.
Stokes didn’t have a productive first Test with the willow and would have been keen to make amends in the remaining two matches.
Given how England recorded a brilliant comeback win despite their talisman not contributing significantly to the cause, one wouldn’t say Joe Root’s men would be rank pushovers without him. While their batting will be significantly weakened without Stokes, they have enough firepower in their bowling to defend just about any total their batters put up.
However, when you’re going into the next Tests without a bloke who has 4,419 runs and 156 wickets against his name in the longest format, you’re clearly short on quality. Hence, one scarcely needs to underline the importance of the Durham all-rounder in that English XI.
Not having England’s all-format showman in the remaining Tests would give Pakistan hope that if their bowlers can send back England’s top three nice and early then their middle-order, sans Stokes, could wobble.
England’s crisis man
What’s more, the 29-year-old has been England’s crisis man across formats and got his team home in situations when all seemed lost.
Be it the unbeaten 135 at Headingley which gave England an improbable win over Australia in last year’s Ashes series and the heroic 84 not out in the 2019 World Cup final, Stokes has given ample evidence of his ability to absorb pressure in crunch situations and win games for his country.
So, if the next Test goes down to the wire and England find themselves in a situation similar to the one at Headingley against the Baggy Greens, they will miss Stokes’s calm head and steely determination in the middle. His ability to anchor the innings and bat with the tail will also be missed.
Chris Woakes, who scored an unbeaten, match-winning 84 in the first Test at the Emirates Old Trafford, would have to put his hand up again and fill in for Stokes.
The Durham all-rounder triggered the Pakistan collapse in the second innings at Old Trafford, with two quick wickets.
The four overs he bowled cost just 11 runs at a time when the Pakistanis were looking to pile on their lead, and, more importantly, fetched two wickets.
He also picked up the prized scalp of keeper-bat Mohammad Rizwan, who looked to have settled in with a resolute 27. His wicket effectively opened the floodgates for England.
One dare say the absence of Stokes will nullify whatever positives England might have taken from the Old Trafford encounter and ensure that the two sides go into the remaining two Tests as equals in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.