He might not have the martial arts skills of Jason Bourne – not to my knowledge anyway – but England’s premier all rounder is certainly a wanted man right now. He’s dangerous. He’s gifted. He’s angry. And nothing can stand in his way … except for locker doors of course.
I can’t say I watched his 103 off 63 balls for the Ascending Plum Uber Titans this weekend – a combination of family commitments and an aversion to televised slaughters prevented it – but I didn’t really need to. I’ve seen Stokes go ballistic many times before and know exactly what he’s capable of.
If Stokes can take out the likes of Morkel and Ramada – as he did so memorably during his 258 against South Africa at Cape Town fifteen months ago – the likes of Sangwan and Thampi aren’t exactly going to slow him down. I mean, who the hell is Basil Thampi anyway? Presumably some cross between Basil ‘don’t mention the score’ Fawlty, Bambi and Thumper.
Although I’m not an avid follower of the IPL, Steve Smith’s post-match comments certainly piqued my interest:
That was an amazing innings … we were so excited to sign him. I said before the IPL auction to the owners just do what you have to do to get him … we paid a big amount to get him … we know he’s a quality player.
For an Aussie (let alone the Australia captain) to praise a Pom so highly says a great deal. With a huge Ashes series on the horizon, we’re more accustomed to the Aussies talking down our cricketers.
Although the IPL has transformed international cricket in some ways – players from rival countries regularly forge friendships that would’ve seem unimaginable twenty years ago – it still speaks volumes that someone of Smith’s stature rates Stokes so highly.
I sense that Stokes will be England’s key man in the Ashes this winter (alongside Joe Root) as he plays the game in such an aggressive way. Although Australia are 4/6 favourites and England relative outsiders at 11/4 – you’ll find the best odds and promos from reputable bookies at whatbookies.co.uk – England will be much more competitive if Stokes is on song.
Australia will undoubtedly play aggressive cricket and try to bully England like they did in 2013/14, so having someone like Stokes who can counter-attack and seize the initiative will be invaluable. Momentum is such a huge thing in cricket.
I also expect the Australian crowds to warm to Stokes in the same way that they warmed to Darren Gough. They might boo him initially – which is obviously a sign of respect – but the Aussies admire wholehearted and enthusiastic cricketers with a bit of an edge. If the crowds eventually embrace Stokes as one of their own, it should help the whole England team.
When Stokes was (somewhat unexpectedly) made England vice-captain earlier this year, a few eyebrows were raised – including my own if I’m being honest. However, this piece I received from regular reader Danny Holden, which draws parallels between Stokes and David Warner, changed my mind …
David Warner, the man nicknamed “Bull”, has laid out a path that Stokes would do well to follow: putting aside the childish hard man act and channelling his energy and aggression into taking Australia forward as Steve Smith’s deputy.
Ben Stokes is a similar bull to David Warner. Bowling predictable bouncers, punching things he shouldn’t be punching, swilling red bull on the Lord’s square at drinks and running around like the proverbial Bull in a china shop.
As Root follows his counterparts Kohli, Smith and Williamson into test captaincy, Ben Stokes has before him an opportunity to become more than just an unpredictable storm.
Although he at no point shies away from a good straightener – as evidenced by his defining century at Perth as the rest of the England team succumbed to Mitchell Johnson’s pace – Stokes’ patient batting in the subcontinent and manful toil with the ball has been a refreshing change and shows he can adapt.
David Warner came into cricket as a caricature – an attack dog who could not have been further away from vice captaincy or responsibility. Yet look at him now.
If Stokes recognises how the mustachioed Bull has gone about his work, then he too can transform himself into one of the great figures in world cricket.
I think Danny is right. There are several similarities between Stokes and Warner: both players are uber-aggressive, get up the opposition’s nose, and can turn a match upside down. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Australia’s experience with Warner convinced Andrew Strauss that vice-captaincy would suit Stokes too.
Although Stokes’ test statistics don’t quite reflect his natural ability yet – he currently averages 34 with both bat and ball in test cricket – he’s probably the best all-rounder in the world at the moment. And if he isn’t quite the best, then he’s certainly the most watchable.
Stokes has made good progress as a cricketer during the last year or so, and his feats in the IPL are making him a truly global super star. Let’s just hope that England manage his workload intelligently over the coming nine months. We have a habit of bowling our stars into the ground (just ask Andrew Flintoff) and the last thing we need is Stokes picking up another of his irritating injuries just before the Ashes.
If Stokes is fully fit and firing this winter then I think that England stand a realistic chance. But if Stokes is injured it will probably be a very long, difficult and tortuous tour.
Written in collaboration with WhatBookies.co.uk