Cricket Weekly Column: Ben Stokes England’s Hero

By Riley Taylor (@rileyttaylor21)

Welcome to the twelfth edition of Overtime’s Cricket Weekly Column, where we look at the week’s biggest stories and games.

After an immense month for one England cricketer, I thought I would go in-depth into his career and why I am one of his biggest admirers.

Ben Stokes: The Player That Made Me Love Cricket

It would be an understatement to say I am a massive cricket fan. Since I became interested in the sport when I was 12 it has taken over my life and has greatly influenced my choice of career so when the cricket season rolls around, I’m thrilled at a prospect of an incredible summer.

When I first got into cricket, I never followed a county or even any players. But when I first heard of the county championship, I picked the first team I saw play along with the first name I saw on the team sheet, that county was Durham and that player was a certain BA Stokes.

Since then I have followed him, and his career and he has even influenced the teams I support.

The team that may be seen as most questionable is Durham this being because I am from the opposite end of the country in Dorset.

However, since then I developed a great support to the county as well, from watching them win the Division One title in 2013 to now hopefully bouncing back from financial difficulties to get back to glory again.

I have also developed a fondness to the franchises he has played for, Melbourne Renegades in Australia and Rajasthan Royals where I was also reintroduced to Jofra Archer after seeing him play for Sussex.

It has not always been easy to be a big supporter of his considering incidents such as the night in Eden Gardens in 2016 to Bristol 2017, but I have stuck by and continued to shout his name from the rooftops, and as his numerous series winning performances have proved, he is still the player that made me love the game.

So, when the dubbed “Summer of Cricket” rolled around this year which featured a World Cup in England involving the greatest English one day side of all time followed by the Ashes, the most historic rivalry in cricket, I couldn’t put into words how excited I was and hoped that Stokes could prove his worth once again.

If only I knew what was to come.

A Dream Summer

Ben Stokes has had a dream couple of months as an England cricketer, from winning his country their first-ever World Cup to saving England’s Ashes campaign with one of the greatest Test innings of all time.

On July 13th England looked to be falling to another World Cup final defeat after collapsing to 86/4 but a stunning innings of 84 not out from Stokes took the game to a super over, which England won.

That innings alone had made him a cricketing hero for the summer and had raised questions of a potential Sports Personality of the Year award and even a knighthood.

But just six weeks after his World Cup Final heroics he topped his previous innings as he became another “Hero of Headingley”, following in the footsteps of Ian Botham, Freddie Flintoff and Mark Butcher but arguably Stokes’ achievement was far greater.

England were 1-0 down in the Ashes needing to win or draw to keep it alive and after a strong evening session they were on their way to successfully complete the 10th largest chase in Test history.

However, a collapse of 41/5 saw the Ashes slipping away as Stokes was joined by Jack Leach.

“When the number 11 came out I knew what I had to do in terms of a game situation, and he (Leach) executed his game perfectly too,” said Stokes in the post-match press conference.

England needed a further 73 to win and with only one wicket left it seemed the Aussies would be retaining the Ashes, but they failed to account for Stokes.

He began to lay on an attacking clinic on the Australian bowling as he reached a stunning hundred featuring shots that included switch hitting Australia’s third highest wicket taker ever in Nathan Lyon for six and scooping 90mph Pat Cummins for the same result.

Stokes plundered on as the Durham all-rounder attacked and with another six off Nathan Lyon got England within two runs of victory with his partner at the other hand cleaning his glasses and resolutely defending against Cummins.

This type of courageous counterattacking batting had warranted Stokes to a few rash shots and a huge amount of luck.

He was dropped twice in his mammoth innings and when it was down to just two to win, he witnessed Leach survive an almost certain runout before Stokes himself survived a certain leg-before shout by Lyon but was not given out by umpire Joel Wilson.

However, the adage is that fortune favours the brave and that is certainly what Stokes deserved as he leathered a ball from Cummins to the boundary to seal a famous win for England and wrote his name into the front pages of every tabloid across the country once again.

Redemption

Those moments that Stokes produced may have lit up the country with “cricket-fever” but for those that had followed him closely for many a year it wasn’t always plain sailing.

The first event I remember that made me question myself as a Stokes supporter was him missing the T20 World Cup in 2014 due to broken hand that was obtained when he punched a locker in the West Indies after being dismissed first ball.

Albeit this was at the start of his England career and so being a youngster with a fiery temperament this could have easily happened but to miss a World Cup due to the frustration of getting out is something that Stokes will have regretted.

Fast-forward to April 3rd, 2016, where Stokes featured in the England side that were to take on the West Indies in the World T20 Final.

Stokes had not shone with the bat but instead had been superb with the ball, tasked by captain Eoin Morgan to bowl at the death, a task that is always nerve-racking for any bowler but is always seen as an incredible skill if carried out correctly.

He did this well throughout the tournament and even more so in the semi-final versus New Zealand to give England a spot in the final.

In the final, England had produced a below par total with the bat and it looked like the West Indies would have a simple chase but good bowling from David Willey and Joe Root had seen the Windies needing 16 to win from the last over.

It looked to be a certain win for England with Stokes handed the ball and tasked with doing what he had done previously in the tournament.

However, this time things didn’t go as planned as Carlos Brathwaite stepped up and smashed four consecutive sixes to win the West Indies the World Cup.

It was an extremely tough moment to take for Stokes and for England after playing so well throughout the tournament.

No player can come out of a situation like Stokes’ well and it will forever be a part of him, but these moments are also part of many great cricketers.

Who could forget the time Yuvraj Singh hit six consecutive sixes off Stuart Broad? A moment that will never been forgotten, but a moment that has also boosted Broad’s career further, going on to take 458 Test match wickets and becoming England’s second greatest bowler of all time.

Of course, there was also Bristol, a moment where many a cricket fan including me thought his career was going to be over.

It was a time where Stokes wasn’t painted in the greatest light with him and teammate Alex Hales arrested for what was reported to be affray.

It was a difficult period in the lives of many Stokes fans including me, what do you do when someone you’ve looked up to and the person who has influenced your career is portrayed in the media and online as a thug and instead is not remembered for the moments of brilliance he has produced in the past.

He was subsequently dropped for England’s tour of Australia, a massive call from the England selectors considering the calibre of player they were dropping.

This call was different from any ordinary “ban” as The Ashes is possibly the most prestigious Test series to play in for any English or Australian cricketer and so for Stokes to be left out of just this series seemed to be the ECB’s way of saying “this is enough punishment.”

Stokes “ban” started a long period of constant news stories and wild accusations but whilst these were going on England struggled without him.

They were humiliated 4-0 in Australia as they failed to find someone of Stokes’ ability as a genuine all-rounder to take his place.

He was eventually allowed back into the England setup after missing the whole of the tour to Australia and has re-established himself as their leading all-rounder.

These incidents have highlighted why the moments this summer were so important, they not only reminded fans how good Stokes is but what those moments meant to him and his fans.

Furthermore, whilst this summer may not have removed these moments from history, but they certainly gave Stokes his chance at redemption to prove himself once again and return to be the world’s best all-rounder.

Botham, Flintoff, Stokes

Whenever England have introduced a fast bowling, big hitting all-rounder it has often come off. Ian Botham being the one to start this fascination due to his heroics in 1981 and then going on to become one of England’s most successful players.

Next came Andrew Flintoff, a bustling all-rounder who would run in and give his captain his all before going out and teeing off from ball one against the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Brett Lee to make himself an Ashes hero.

Then came Stokes, much in the same mould as Flintoff but with more of a modern flair and an ability to look so classy and yet aggressive in his approach.

To this day when people are asked their favourite shot from any cricketer, its an Ian Bell cover drive or an MS Dhoni helicopter or even a Kevin Pietersen flamingo shot.

For me, it’s a Ben Stokes punch down the ground, he makes it look so effortless a perfect balance of timing and yet the right amount of power.

He has shown his craft all over the world and after discussing the moments which made me question my loyalty it’s better to discuss the moments I was vindicated for following him as we analyse the best performances of his career.

Stokes Announces Himself to Test Cricket: Australia v England at Perth 2013

Obviously, his innings this summer at Headingley against Australia was possibly his greatest innings ever and it was the same opponents where Stokes announced himself on the Test scene as he notched a hundred in his just his second Test match.

This was my first-time watching Stokes bat and already I could tell he was special as he batted with such authority despite the menacing attack he faced.

He was the one bright light from a horrible series for England as they were hammered 5-0 but it was some find as he went on to cement the all-rounder spot.

Quickest Hundred at Lords: England v New Zealand at Lords’ 2015

17 months later after his Test awakening, Stokes making just his second appearance at the Home of Cricket in Test, wrote his name on to the Lords’ Honours Board with a sparkling display as he broke the record for the fastest century at Lords.

This wasn’t the start of it as he made 92 in the first innings during a partnership with Joe Root before frustratingly falling to Matt Craig.

However, he made sure to capitalise in the second as he brought up his hundred off just 85 balls, combining with Alastair Cook to set New Zealand a tough chase before he then dominated with the ball as he picked up three wickets including one of the greatest deliveries of all time to dismiss Brendon McCullum.

The delivery from the Durham all-rounder swung a long way in to dismiss the legendary Kiwi captain for a golden duck to cap off a remarkable game.

The King of Cape Town: South Africa v England at Cape Town 2016

What. An. Innings.

England were struggling at 223/5 as Stokes’ was joined by Jonny Bairstow and what followed was truly special and my favourite innings I have seen from him.

The ginger pair put on a 399-run partnership with Stokes launching an attack on the South African bowling as he amassed the second fastest double hundred of all time.

His brutal attack continued as he notched 30 fours’ and 11 sixes in his innings as he went on to score the quickest 250 in Test cricket history, a truly monumental innings and my favourite of Stokes’ to date.

First One-Day Hundred: Bangladesh v England at Dhaka 2016

A Test hundred is always a special feat for any player but for some a One-day hundred can be seen as just as special.

For openers who play across both formats it is commonplace to celebrate tons in both formats but for players who bat down the order it is not often it happens.

Stokes’ who commonly bats at six in one-day cricket for England is known for coming in late in the piece and smashing a quick fifty in order to boost the total.

However, in this instance against Bangladesh he was in early with England in a tricky position at 63/3.

He would go on to play a controlled yet aggressive innings as he prevented the flow of wickets before going on to notch his first-ever one-day international hundred off 98 balls.

This innings would setup a win for England as without it they may have collapsed further from their position early on.

Stokes Clutches Up in Chattogram: Bangladesh v England at Chattogram 2016

Pressure is a word that is thrown around a lot in sport, especially in cricket. But Stokes’ next major contribution saw him perform under an intense situation as he clutched up with the ball to win England the game.

This took place during England’s tour of Bangladesh in 2016 and his man of the match performance started with him picking up four crucial wickets in the first innings to preserve England’s lead.

He then backed this up with a controlled 85 in the second innings when England were struggling as he added 127 with Jonny Bairstow in a partnership for the sixth wicket.

However, the real pressure moment was when Bangladesh needed just 25 runs to win and Stokes was asked to bowl by captain Alastair Cook as England looked for the final two wickets.

Stokes came on and produced a fine spell of reverse swing as he prised out the two remaining Bangladeshi batsmen to win England the game.

Top Scoring in Rajkot: India v England at Rajkot 2016

It’s always a battle for batsmen in the sub-continent with the ball turning from the start but Stokes’ showed once again why he’s such a great player as he made 128 off 235 balls in Rajkot as he fought against the Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.

He outscored the two other centurions in the innings, Joe Root and Moeen Ali, as he helped setup a massive total for England.

A Ton to Knockout the Aussies: England v Australia at Edgbaston 2017

With England already through they needn’t of worried about beating Australia in their Champions Trophy group stage campaign.

However, a victory over the Aussies is always sweet for any England cricketer but on this occasion a victory may have been even sweeter as a defeat for Australia would have seen them crash out at the group stages.

This looked to be the cases as England restricted the Aussies for just 277 with Stokes prising the big wicket of Aaron Finch in the process

However, England fell to 35/3 in reply with Stokes in early and facing the brunt of the Australian bowling once more.

Not to be deterred, he put on a 159-run partnership with captain Eoin Morgan before continuing his attack after the skippers’ dismissal as he went his second one-day international hundred.

Stokes was to finish not out as the rain came down to wash out the game and to hand England a 40-run victory thanks to the Duckworth-Lewis method, to cap another special performance for the all-rounder against the Aussies.

Dominating the Series: England v West Indies at Headingley and Lords’ 2017

James Anderson may have been England’s man of the series, but it was Stokes that rescued England in dire situations throughout the series with a number of match winning performances.

This started in the second Test at Leeds when England looked to be in real trouble early on when they slid to 71/4.

However, Stokes came in and briefly repaired the damage with Joe Root before going on to make a masterful hundred as his score carried England to a reasonable total.

He followed this up with a couple of wickets in West Indies first innings but ultimately it was the third Test where he shone particularly.

With the series tied at 1-1 it was a crucial Test for England and Stokes duly stepped up as he took career best figures of 6-22 with a superb spell of swing bowling in the West Indies first innings.

He backed this up with another crucial innings in a time of need for England as he made a counterattacking 60 in tough batting conditions to keep England in the match, which ended up being a massive contribution as England rolled the West Indies for 177 to setup an easy chase.

These contributions won Stokes’ a deserved man of the match award as he finished with 228 runs at an average of 57 as well as nine wickets at an average of just 22 in the series.

An Ashes Saviour?: England v Australia at Lords’ 2019

His best was yet to come just a week later but Stokes had already proven his big game prowess in the second Test at Headingley.

With the Ashes seemingly on the line after a defeat at Edgbaston, England needed another big innings from their all-rounder after slipping to 71/4 with a lead of just 78.

However, he combined with Jos Buttler to steady the ship before launching an attack on the Aussie bowlers as he reached another superb Test hundred to setup a chance at victory for England.

Conclusion

To end, Ben Stokes has written himself into the memories of many old and new cricket fans across England due to his success this summer. But also, for fans like me that have followed him for a while.

It is gratifying to be vindicated for supporting such a great player after going through some lows over the past few years.

Stokes will now go down as an England legend but most importantly it is great to see a player of his calibre back to his original self after earning a deserved redemption and there is no doubt that there is plenty more to come and I for one can’t wait.

Featured image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/naparazzi/11704837023

Stay tuned for more Cricket Weekly next week!

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For our summary of England’s 3rd Test versus Australia click here

Sub-edited by Tony Robertson.

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