There were two instances in the Ashes 2013-14 which will never be forgotten. It will be cherished for the terror Mitchell Johnson had spread across the England dressing room with his lethal spells one after the another and recalled for England veteran Jonathan Trott’s departure from Australia after the first Test ended. Where a career seemed to had almost finished, the doors opened for a 22-year-old cricketer, whose future was put under scrutiny after he was sent home from the Lions tour of Australia for disciplinary reasons.
The name is Ben Stokes.
He was thrown into the Test arena in the toughest possible circumstances and was expected to revive England’s tour after they were punished in Gabba where the hosts won the opening Test by a huge margin of 381 runs.
Stokes made his debut in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide and his maiden Test was as average as one and 28 with the bat and he finished with bowling figures of 2 for 70. Then came Perth when the world realised that Stokes was very similar to the Australians, nature-wise. Australians pick on the players, who they are sure shot to get a reaction from, to sledge/fight. These reactions, on 9/10 times, makes the player commit a mistake and that way the Australians try to take control of their opponents’ minds.
Remember Stokes’ international debut in Australia?
However, Stoke’s aggression on and off the field matched with the Aussies: he was among the first ones to step up if the team needed that of him, just like the Australians would do without a second thought. England bowled first in Perth and Stokes got involved too soon to make his presence felt. That was followed by scoring one of the most character-filled century ever scored by an England player in Australia. It could easily be termed as the best-ever Test ton witnessed in a losing cause, let alone that it came from a one-Test old 22-year-old dude.
Stokes did something the rest of the team failed to do. He not only got involved in a verbal spat with Johnson but also gave him a fitting reply with his maiden Test hundred. Stokes belonged to North England’s part that reared on green and slow pitches. There are very few players who have managed to own an alien-conditioned- pitch against Johnson and Co and made the sight utter delightful. That century remained the highest point of England in that tour.
Four years later, a lot has changed in this part of the world, where the two sides are again fighting for the same Urn. The fierce Johnson has retired from the sport and Stokes, today, has reached the pinnacle of his career. The New Zealand-born is ranked No. 4 in Tests in the ICC All-rounder Test rankings. He was named the vice-captain of the national Test side but has lost the role to James Anderson for the Ashes 2017-18.
Fast forward, 4 years…
In these four years, he has added five more Test hundreds, 12 half-centuries and 80 more wickets to his kitty.
When Stokes first played for England in the Ashes 2013-14, he did not have a great reputation due to his drinking issues but he was also a dad to an 18-month child. Maybe, that aspect helped him focus on his career and ensured there will always be a place in the England XI whenever he will be available.
However, Daddy Stokes apparently has not let go of old bad habits and this time it has hit back to him and England really hard. Stokes and Alex Hales are facing suspension for their altercation on a Sunday night in Bristol in September. Until the Somerset police finished the investigation, Stokes cannot be allowed to resume his England duties.
When the lower-order was ripped apart by the Australian fast bowling duo of Micthell Starc and Pat Cummins on Day four in Brisbane, there are no prizes to guess what an entire country and its coach would be thinking? – Why Ben? Why? Starc and Cummins made four breakthroughs for 10 runs in 21 balls; out of which Starc claimed three and the final man became Cummins’ first victim of the third innings. The two finished the job, which was started by their third partner, Josh Hazlewood, who had removed the openers Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman in the span of six runs.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) November 26, 2017
In the first innings, England had a terrific start where the newcomers, James Vince and Stoneman had put up a 125-run stand before Moeen Ali and four-Test old Dawid Malan carried forward England’s innings on Day two. Despite the hosts resumed the innings with a new ball that was a mere three deliveries old, Ali and Malan gave them a tough time. However, when Starc returned for his second spell after drinks, he had vicious shorts ball under his sleeves for these two. He finally broke the 883-run stand for the fifth wicket by dismissing Malan for 56 off 130.
Eight balls later England had two new batsmen at the crease on 0 when Ali was trapped LBW off Nathan Lyon’s bowling. The visitors were bundled out by losing final six wickets for just 56 runs. Going into the Ashes 2017-18, English Skipper Joe Root would have thought that their middle-order with experienced Ali, Jonny Bairstow, and Root himself was a stronger middle line up than Australia’s that had more new faces than the known ones. This was the only hope that allowed him to not think about Stokes’ absence in the side; but, In the span of fewer than 200 overs, Root’s believe has been royally thrashed by the hosts.
How would England look like with Stokes?
In the recent times, England have managed to rule Test cricket and that has been possible mostly due to the runs they have scored. No, I’m not talking about the top-order or Root. The guys at No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 – Stokes, Ali, Bairstow and Chris Woakes.
With the absence of Stokes, England’s middle-order has shaken for the bad and that surely is being reflected in tail’s struggle. Ali, who averages more than 65 batting at No. 7, has been pushed a position up. He surely can manage that but a series like Ashes is not the platform to experiment. Ali averages 23.76 at No. 6, while he has had immense success at No. 7 ever since he was given that position two years ago. In such a short period of time, he has piled up 754 runs in 17 Tests, where three centuries and fifties apiece are included. This Test is the first instance in three matches where Ali failed to register even one fifty. They have changed expectations from Woakes and Bairstow only to make the situation worse.
@englandcricket Does it take that long to decide whether a bloke is guilty or not?? Why the suspense ?? If there is no charge get @benstokes38 on the plane . He has already missed 2 odis and a test. Give him a chance to redeem on the cricket field.
— Rakesh Sadarangani (@ilovecricket24) November 26, 2017
Stokes’ replacement Jake Ball has not been very impressive so far. With Stokes’ absence, England have a major vacuum in the team with a significant fast bowling all-round missing. In the Ashes 2013-14, Stokes was the second best for England after Stuart Broad with 15 wickets. He was ahead of Anderson too and that spoke volumes about him as a debutant in a series like Ashes.
He has the excellent knack of throwing short balls at the batsmen at a very ease, just like Starc treated the English batsmen in the third innings. Considering Starc’s success with the short balls, one can only imagine the destruction Stokes could create! He has the stamina, power and zeal to go on and on with the ball throughout the day. He has the capability to move the ball both ways by a feat, not even an inch; his unique action of above the head has helped him swing it well and that gives him an edge that seamers cannot find.
With a few hours to go on the fourth day, Australia came out to bat in the last innings. England set them a poor target of 170 and it needed a special effort from the visiting bowling camp to make the match alive for themselves again. Apart from Broad and Anderson no other pacer has been able to make an impact on the hosts. In the first innings, Broad and Anderson combined grabbed five wickets, while Woakes and Ball had only a wicket each to their name. Those were the situations when an all-rounder like Stokes could bring in the lost intensity and spunk in the bowling line-up.
Need a miracle. Oh and Ben Stokes
— Paul R. (@RuLoathesome) November 26, 2017
When they have needed the most, their arguably best batsman in the country, Cook, has been disappointing with the bat. Captain Root is under immense pressure with concerns in the team. Physiologically too because of his counterpart, Steven Smith, has by far beaten him in every aspect. These issues will keep prolonging as Ashes keeps going ahead. But, with one match in the 2017-18 series, England have realised out-rightly that they need the magic of Stokes in the middle and with the ball.