Social media handles were set ablaze when English all-rounder Ben Stokes was bought in by Rising Pune Supergiant for a whopping price of 14.5 crores. Despite his mediocre (for a talent like Stokes) Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) numbers, Stokes ability was well spotted by RPS. In T20Is, he averages 14.76 with bat and 48.50 with ball. Stokes started off his Indian Premier League stint on a promising note in their opening clash against Mumbai Indians (MI). Stokes continued his journey well in next six games but was in dire need of a big innings under his belt.
Stokes turned the game on its head in their second encounter against Mumbai Indians, where he pulled things back in the nail-biting 19th over. He gave a testament to his effectiveness with the ball when he gave away just 7 runs in the penultimate over while defending 24 runs off the last 12 deliveries. Some guileful yorkers and canny change in pace saw a well-set Rohit Sharma and the hard-hitting Hardik Pandya milk just seven runs and requiring 17 off the last six. This was Stokes’ day! He snatched an improbable victory from imminent jaws of defeat as RPS beat MI in both their encounters this season.
— Steve Smith (@stevesmith49) May 1, 2017
Then came the crucial encounter against Gujarat Lions, where both the teams needed a win to cope-up with the race to make it to the playoffs. Stokes missed out on a couple of games due to injury and was making a comeback in this one. This was going to be a big day in Stokes’ career, but none had an idea about it. A century in any format is special, it’s a milestone. And in T20s, it is astronomical. In T20s, a batsman hardly gets enough deliveries to reach the landmark and for someone like Stokes, who bats in the middle-order, is an oddity.
RPS won the toss and elected to bowl first, Gujarat Lions got off to a solid start with Brendon McCullum and Ishan Kishan firing at top. But a crippling middle-order collapse denied them from posting a massive total. They were dismantled for a modest total of 161 after being 94 for 2 inside 10 overs. Imran Tahir and Jaydev Unadkat bagged three wickets apiece while McCullum top-scored with his 45.
RPS had the firepower in their artillery to chase down this total with ease but GL bowlers wreaked havoc with the new ball. Pradeep Sangwan drew the first blood by trapping Ajinkya Rahane on the fourth delivery and then got the better of RPS skipper Steven Smith on the final ball. RPS were reduced to 8 for 2 in the first over whereas GL could see a glimpse of pulling this off. Basil Thampi added more agony by getting rid of Manoj Tiwary for a duck as RPS were in hot water.
In came Stokes, and had a massive task in hand in rescuing the RPS ship from troubled waters. It’s not very often when Stokes gets to bat in the power-play and this time there was the pressure of a run-chase. Stokes was in no mood to go defensive and punished the balls pitched in his zone. His pull off Sangwan in the fifth over, which went sailing in the stands, gave a glimpse of the touch he was in. Rahul Tripathi looked in good touch but a horrible mix-up while sneaking a second ended his run on six. Things went from bad to worse and RPS were in dire need of a partnership when MS Dhoni walked in.
— RisingPuneSupergiant (@RPSupergiants) May 1, 2017
Dhoni is tailor-made for situations like this, well equipped to carry the team over the line with utter calmness and ease. The match-wining partnership between the two started to build, Stokes kept on playing his shots and attacked while Dhoni bid his time at the crease. In middle, leg-spinner Ankit Soni delivered a beauty but Stokes was astute enough to not throw is wicket away and drag it till the end.
Dhoni was all set to accelerate and bring all his experience of a run-chase into play. But Basil Thampi scalped his wicket at a crucial juncture in the 17th over with a slower one. It was rightly picked by Dhoni but failed to travel the distance. Dhoni has done numerous times in the past but failed on this occasion. The duo stitched 78 runs stand off 64 deliveries between them and Dhoni accounted for 26 off 33. After Dhoni’s fall, the total responsibility of hunting down the total came on Stokes’ shoulder and the southpaw didn’t disappoint.
Stokes hammered two sixes in the 19th over and steered his side to a winning position with some breath-taking power-hitting. With a boundary to James Faulkner in the 20th over, Stokes raised his bat in elation to celebrate his maiden T20 ton. He never let the required run-rate go beyond reach and kept it under check. Stokes remained unaffected and played his natural game. Riding on Stokes’ staggering outing, RPS gunned down the target with five wickets to spare to record their sixth win of the season. His 103 off 63 deliveries, is the highest score for a number 5 while chasing in the history of IPL. There was only one man standing between GL and a scintillating victory, that man was Stokes. This is why players like Stokes bag big amounts in the auction, they can win matches single-handedly.
— Troll Cinema ( TC ) (@Troll_Cinema) May 1, 2017
Stokes’ willow accounted for 61.67 percent of RPS total, the next best scorer in his side’s run-chase was 26, which clearly speaks about his dominance. This was undoubtedly one of the finest innings played in IPL, and with Stokes in apocalyptic form, it will only boost the RPS in the business end of the tournament. As of now, the world is relishing the mesmerising innings by one of the best all-rounders in contemporary cricket – Ben Stokes.