“Ben Stokes plays like Imran and Botham. Like them, he is aggressive, brave, and relishes tough challenges. Test cricket needs players like him and a competitive rivalry”

The battle between the bat and ball was well poised on the first day of the second Test between South Africa and England. The Proteas were determined to bounce back after a torrid 2015 and the young Kagiso Rabada did pretty well to keep the English batsmen under control.

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes were grafting a partnership that was gradually becoming a threatening one for Hashim Amla’s team. In the 80th over Amla took the new ball and from a cricketing perspective, it was not a smart move as the old ball could have proved handy if someone like Morne Morkel was introduced during that crucial passage of play.

Morkel is a bowler who has the ability to utilize the old ball smartly, by swinging it late, and on such a weary track, his expertise might have bloomed flowers for South Africa. The new ball should have been taken on the second day as it would have been productive in the first session.

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For a breakthrough, any captain will throw the ball, whether old or new, to his tried and tested customer, but Amla did the opposite. He brought on the debutante Chris Morris to bowl with the new ball and this proved to be a costly ploy. Morris’ first ball of the 81st over was full and outside off and Ben Stokes greeted that with a well-timed-but-powerfully-hit on-drive.

If any shot hinted at something special that was about to come then that was it. That shot unnerved Morris. He lost his control over his bowling and Stokes plundered three more boundaries in that over to galvanize his killer mood.

At the end of day 1, Stokes was not out on 74.

The Stokes and Bairstow partnership has fetched 94 runs for the sixth wicket and 46 of those were leaked in the last seven overs of the day against the new ball and courtesy of some swashbuckling stroke-play of Stokes.

The second day of the Test match is now a part of cricket’s folklore. Cape Town’s Table Mountain has witnessed many epic encounters and eye-popping batting displays. On the third of January, 2016, she witnessed yet another magical and jaw-dropping display of murderous-batting. It was almost like Graeme Pollock’s one-legged adventure against Australia in 1967 when he transformed into Hercules to pummel the Aussie bowlers.

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Ben Stokes was mesmerizing, breathtaking, and relentless. He single-handedly put the South Africa attack to the sword. He kept on hitting the ball so powerfully that the fielders hardly had to move as the ball rocketed towards the boundary the moment it left the bat.

Stokes stormed his way to 258 runs off just 198 balls with 11 humungous sixes and scorching 30 boundaries. England made 312 for 1 off 38.5 overs in the day. The record books were turned upside down by Stokes.

At the moment, he holds the record for England’s fastest ever century and double-century, the fastest ever Test match 250 and the highest ever score for a Test batsman batting at six. He also holds the record for the most runs scored by an individual batsman in the morning session of a Test match.

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Ben Stokes announced his arrival with a hundred against Mitchell Johnson and Co. at the WACA and then bagged 6 for 99 at SCG. England was down and dusted in Australia, but Stokes was one of the positives of that tour. Slowly and steadily, he stamped his authority in the English team, and at the moment, he is dubbed as one of the finest prospects not only for England but for world cricket as well.

Stokes is an allrounder. According to Phil Simmons, “He can take a game from you with bat or ball. He’s the glue that holds the England team together. His bowling allows Jimmy Anderson to come back fresh and that’s a big thing. That’s the kind of cricketer you need.”

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Ben Stokes’ batting has created hype among fans all over the world and more often, it overshadows his bowling abilities. Yes, his bowling has not been as staggering as his batting of late, but mind you, he is a very effective pace bowler. His bowling is all about attitude rather than skill. His bowling is not as skillful as James Anderson or Stuart Broad, but when it comes to displaying courage, creating pressure, and never-ending stamina, Stokes is the man in whom you can invest faith.

He has the ability to generate pace even on dead tracks and can maintain his speed despite bowling longer spells in adverse conditions. Still, that wicket-taking ability has not taken center-stage in Stokes’ bowling repertoire.

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In the Test series against West Indies and New Zealand last year, his bat did the talking more than his bowling while in the Ashes, his bat remained quiet, but with the ball, he took 11 wickets, and in the UAE against Pakistan, he was firing blanks both with the bat and ball. Taking wickets on a consistent basis had been missing, but in South Africa, it all got together – 411 runs and 12 wickets from 4 Tests which is like the achievement of a true all-rounder.

According to many fans, cricket in the 80s was gold. It was an era when the ultimate legends of the game ruled the rooster, but that era was given a charismatic touch by the four greatest allrounders in the history of Test cricket: Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, and Richard Hadlee. Their rivalries were a matter of huge interest among the fans and their charismatic display, had a big impact on world cricket, especially in Test cricket. Their departure has created a vacuum that has still not been filled. The emergence of charismatic all-rounders became a rarity.

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Ben Stokes plays like Imran and Botham. Like them, he is aggressive, brave, and relishes tough challenges. Test cricket needs players like him and a competitive rivalry.

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