Nearly a year after managing a miracle against Australia at Headingly, Ben Stokes once again showed his full array of skills in Manchester this week to help England to a crucial win in the second Test against West Indies.
After batting carefully in the first innings to compile a patient 176 off 356 balls, the New Zealand-born all-rounder then clubbed 78 off 57 balls on the final morning of the match, scoring quickly enough for the hosts to push for a last-minute victory.
In between, he also bowled with venom – despite being handed an old ball – bouncing the Caribbean batsmen and swinging the momentum of the game in his team’s favour. On the final day, he bowled with an ageing ball again and picked up another two wickets, despite spending most of the match on the pitch.
This complete athletic performance reminded me of some of the achievements of another famous all-rounder from years past, Keith Miller.
The man they called ‘Nugget’ played his last Test match for Australia in 1956 but his career remains one of the benchmarks for the modern all-rounder.
There are a few obvious similarities between the players. Both are characterised by classic batting techniques but can hit with incredible power when required. In addition, both are genuinely quick bowlers, rather than just being medium-pace trundlers. Add to that, both are agile in the field and superb catchers.
But do the similarities end there?
I recently read Roland Perry’s book Miller’s Luck, which takes a detailed look at the man’s unique life. It’s fair to say Miller packed a fair bit in, ranging from wartime service in the RAAF, to playing alongside Don Bradman as part of the Invincibles, to nearly captaining his country.
On the field, he was known for his back-to-the-wall batting performances as well as terrifying bowling spells.
Not everything about his cavalier lifestyle would sit well with our modern sensitivities. That’s similar to Stokes’ public image too, I suppose.
Despite his recent heroics on the pitch, I still struggle to look past that eventful night in Bristol in 2017 when Stokes was caught on camera throwing punches in a late-night brawl.
I thought at the time that he should never play international cricket again. But, rightly or wrongly, his ban has been served and Stokes is now dominating both Test and limited-overs cricket.
To his credit, instead of letting the controversy weigh him down, Stokes has pressed on to forge a stunning career – and he is still only 29.
He has always been a genuine batsman, rather than just a middle-order option, but since the start of 2019 Stokes’ batting average has been over 50. He has also surpassed 150 Test wickets recently too. That’s not to mention his unforgettable heroics at last year’s World Cup.
Both Miller and Stokes are once-in-a-generation talents. Both possess an ability to turn a match on its head, thanks to their incredible skill level in both disciplines. Both have a competitive streak that allows them to call upon these skills even when they must be battling exhaustion.
Like Miller, Stokes will be a player that fans will still be talking about in half a century’s time. In fact, he could lay down one of the great Test careers because the stage is set for him.
As he got older, Miller was able to contribute less as a batsmen as his heroic bowling exploits pushed him to his physical limit. Stokes is unlikely to suffer the same problem. England’s bowling unit is pretty deep – even if James Anderson and Stuart Broad may soon depart – and so Stokes should be able to continue to play the role that he has carved out for himself.
Namely, batting with style and power for long stints, before charging in with the ball when his team needs something special.