Ben Stokes has made it a habit of making up headlines.
With his astonishing match-winning skill, his reputation is getting higher and higher. Furthermore, the mature cricketer is getting inflated with his exceptional ability to read match situations.
Right from his debut until shouldering the England cricket team now, it was a battle of strong character to prove himself.
“As far as I am concerned, Stokes is better than [Ian] Botham,” said Allan Lamb.
“As a batsman, on current form, Stokes is as good as [Virat] Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. On the bowling front, Beefy was ahead, but Stokes has the ability to make something happen when the team needs the most.”
Yes, it’s his batting that pulled the limelight over him. His adventurous innings in the last English summer has made him a superhero among cricket fans. In another point of view, it is his batting heroics that gives us the curiosity to look over his bowling skills.
From a batsman’s point of view, England is the most robust place to bat on. You have to allow the ball inside to manage the English swinging conditions. You have to change your way of batting to play red-ball cricket in England.
But in the case of Ben Stokes, he is lucky to find England as his home. He would have got so much experience with the natural conditions of English soil. So playing in England is not rocket science for the Durham all-rounder.
For a player like Stokes, who loves to play fast bowling, the seam-favoured pitches of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will be helping him more with the extra pace they produce. Therefore, the future tours to other English-speaking countries won’t be a bigger test for the groomed Stokes.
More the speed, more the boom from the sweet spot of his sword.
“What we witnessed on Sunday wasn’t a fluke,” Moeen Ali said about the historic knock of Ben Stokes against Australia in the Headingley Test of 2019.
“It was the result of the hard work I mentioned. Seriously, you will not find a cricketer more dedicated to self improvement. He trains at 100 miles per hour and is just unrelenting with it. And over time it has made him into the player you see today.”
This way of practising against fast bowling had made him more comfortable in the middle. Consequently, he can have a clear sight of the steaming fast deliveries that come towards him.
Most of the English batsmen are good at facing fast bowling. But Stokes stands alone with his brave bat swing. Even the bouncers are negotiated without any hesitation.
The trigger movement
One more factor that bolsters the stupendous batting of Stokes is his trigger movement, mainly his walk down the pitch while the bowler makes the jump.
This walk gives him chances to distract the rhythm of the bowler. And as a consequence, the trigger down the pitch forces the bowlers to change the length they used to bowl.
Another way of the shuffle is getting behind the crease that provides him enough room to chance his arm for his favourite pull or cut shots.
Fluency in the shot-making makes the leftie handle the shuffle with confidence successfully.
Against the spin
In the flat tracks of Asian countries, the fast bowlers will never bother the player who is so good against them. The only thing that is going to be challenging for Stokes in subcontinent conditions is the mysterious spin attack on the spin-friendly pitches.
Stokes comforts himself in sub-continent conditions with his sweep shots and advancing down the pitch. It can be his IPL experiences that could have helped the England batsman in crafting this art.
“The strides he’s made on the subcontinent playing spin have been top class,” said Trevor Bayliss.
“It wasn’t all that long ago we were wondering how he might go on spin-friendly wickets, but he’s a guy that works extremely hard in the nets.
“It’s his defence to spin that has improved out of sight. We know that if he gets a bad ball he can hit anything over the fence, but you’ve got to be there to get that loose ball. In the past he probably hasn’t had a lot of footwork, has played from the crease and backed his eye and his hands.”
With the ball
The scene of four sixes by Carlos Brathwaite off Ben Stokes in the last over of the 2016 T20 World Cup final is what flashes in our mind when we speak about Ben Stokes’ bowling.
Apart from that incident, Ben Stokes is a serious bowler who has got all the skill sets of a fast bowler, especially with the dark red Dukes ball.
He can bring in the swing of the ball through the mastered release, and at the same time, he can also extract seam movement with his perfect seam positioning. With his ability to generate a serious pace, he has become the go-to bowler who creates more wicket-taking options.
Moreover, he is a situational bowler. He has got all the major variations of a modern-day fast bowler (the jolting bouncers, the toe crushers, mix of pace and slower deliveries). But he prefers to bring them in only when those are required for that moment for his team.
Speaking of white-ball bowling, Stokes still needs to be used well by English management. Maybe it is because of the availability of many new rookie fast bowlers, who are getting converted into veterans in the English team, or perhaps it is the process of reducing the work pressure of Stokes.
Ben Stokes can be the better option to start with the new ball in shorter formats, thanks to his knack of the wrist being able to produce exceptional shaping with the shiny new ball.
However, Stokes’ exposure around the cricket world is paying off along with his solid character right now.
“I think everyone understands that we are watching a player at the peak of his powers, at the peak of world cricket, delivering time and time again,” said Joe Root.
Ben Stokes, the all-rounder from Durham, has many stories on his shoulders, especially many drawbacks in the international stage. But his innings in the World Cup final has lifted him.
Even though Ben Stokes has the techniques that could match the top of the business, it is his bravery that sets him apart.
Bravery won the World Cup for England for the first time in history.
Bravery made the impossible Test innings at Headingley.
Bravery is setting a separate kingdom for English cricket in the cricket world at present.
Of course, technique speaks louder in cricket, but the right mindset and approach are even more prominent to execute that technique.
And Benjamin Andrew Stokes is an excellent example of it.