Three Tests, six innings, just one fifty and 146 runs is what Ben Stokes has accumulated so far in the ongoing series at an average of 24.33. He has bowled just 15 overs, taken one wicket, averaged 64 with a strike-rate of 90. This just has been a horrible series for the Durham all-rounder.
Of all the players that England have in their possession, if there was anyone, after Joe Root, it was Ben Stokes who was expected to set the ball rolling. From being a mercurial, at times indisciplined, inconsistent player, the great Ben Stokes transformation has been there for everyone to cherish. There were times when statistics didn’t reflect his true value. When shot selection didn’t reflect the outrageous abilities. The disciplinary breaches didn’t befit the maestro all-rounder. When the broad frame and powerful hands weren’t utilized for all the right reasons.
But in the last couple of years, he has been on the rise. Be it triumphing indiscipline or inconsistency. Who can forget his marathon effort in the 2019 World Cup or the grand finale? An unbeaten 84 that exemplified every bit of his chutzpah, will power, strength, and freak abilities. Or the Super Over batting effort to seal the deal, unlike the 2016 T20 World Cup final. He had laid all his demons to rest. Conquered all. Changed perceptions for once and all. Bristol was history. Lord’s – the symbol of the great generational talent, of the man, the myth, the legend – Benjamin Andrew Stokes.
And that was just the dawn of the Ben ‘box-office’ Stokes. Soon, the Headingley epic followed in the 2019 Ashes. Not only with the bat, Stokes was on a spree to prove to the world that there isn’t a bigger match-winner than him in world cricket. He started bowling those titanic spells, full of venom, raw pace, heart and match-turning wickets.
2020, Cape Town Test. South Africa last lost against England at the Newlands in 1957. South Africa battled hard for 137.4 overs, it’s a rearguard, but the fire starter Stokes does it for England to breach the fortress. 23.5 overs, 8 maidens, 35 runs, and three crucial wickets. He fights fatigue, the grit of the South African batsmen and an unresponsive pitch, that too late in the day to help England to a remarkable win. Not to forget, the madman had also made a 47-ball-72 earlier, and taken six catches as well. But the dream bowling spell was just stuff of legends. So was his zeal for a win, a never-give-up attitude, and an ability to shape the game as per his whims and desires. Not everyone can write their own fairytale story. But then not everyone is Ben Stokes as well.
2020 was peak Ben Stokes in Tests. He averaged 58.27 with the bat and 18.74 with the ball in hand. So coming into this series, Stokes was supposed to be a real game-changer. A senior batsman who already had vast experience of the Indian shores. Someone who will write his own inimitable scripts. Play a role like the maverick Kevin Pietersen, who had counter-punched India in their guts on a turner during the Mumbai epic.
And Stokes gave glimpses of his freak nature with a spell-binding 82 run-knock in the first innings of the Test series opener as well. But that’s pretty much it. There is nothing to write home about him post that. 6, 25, 18, 8 and 7. This is how his scores read in the last five innings.
The biggest riddle that stood between Stokes and an impactful India tour was always going to be his nemesis – Ravichandran Ashwin. A battle between an aggressive Stokes vs the thinker Ashwin. Before the ongoing series, Stokes had already been bamboozled by the 34-year-old seven times in Test cricket and was averaging 21.4.
But Stokes loves challenges. He was expected to conquer this one too. He had overcome bigger roadblocks. And given his extravagant abilities and the fact that he was in the form of his life, not many counted him out.
But the southpaw has batted even poorer than before against Ashwin. The Indian offie has got him out four times in the last five innings. Stokes has averaged merely 13 against the premier Indian spinner while his strike-rate has been 37.41, this series. The English star has got out playing a drive away from his body, missing a half volley, taking baits, beaten on the inside edge and just been toothless against a peak Ashwin on some helpful surfaces.
Not only with the bat, but he has looked off in what little chances he has got to bowl as well. His speed has been down. That zeal to take wickets and the attitude to fight tooth and nail battle has been missing. The ability to provide crucial breakthroughs. Turn the match on its head. To simply put it, it has been anything but a Ben Stokes, the miracle man, the blockbuster cricketer, the match-winner show. He has tried to get into fights, turn on the beast mode, but nothing has worked.
But the senior English man will get one final opportunity to change his fortunes. To change the fortunes of England. To rise above all the pitch talks and make it about himself again. To be the Ben Stokes, we know. The Ben Stokes, who hogs the limelight. Ben Stokes the man who counter-attacks himself out of precarious situations and bad patches. Or the Ben Stokes who shows resilience and will power to bat time. The one who can bowl those feisty spells that define the spirit of the fighter that he is. Take screamers which are not only legal but can lift up the whole morale of the team. That last hurrah, that can put away the forgettable memories of the last two Tests. To achieve something incredible. To draw a series in India after being down and out. If anyone can, it has to be Ben Stokes.