“Ben Stokes silently went about his business and played an instrumental role in England’s series victory in Sri Lanka”
The credit for England’s comprehensive 3-0 whitewash over Sri Lanka mainly goes to its spin troika of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach. The trio accounted for a combined tally of 48 wickets which constitutes 80 percentages of the total 60 Sri Lankan wickets to fall in this series. They really helped England to register their first major series victory in Asia ever since they thumped India at their den back in 2012.
There were other people too, who made major contributions and thus made the victory possible. Series debutant Ben Foakes struck his maiden century in the very first match of the series and thus ended up as the highest run-getter from both sides as well. Jos Buttler stepped up on a couple of occasions, resurrecting England’s innings from situations of potential collapse, and so did Joe Root and Keaton Jennings. Root’s innings of 124 and Jennings innings of 146*, in the second and first Tests respectively, were two of the best innings recorded by visiting batsmen on Asian soil.
However, all these performances somehow eclipsed the all-round contributions of Ben Stokes who stepped up both with bat and ball, whenever England looked like losing the plot. With the bat, Stokes scored 187 runs in 6 innings at an average of 31.16. Those runs included an innings of 62 at Galle when England were struggling at 74 for 3 in the second innings and another couple of innings of 57 and 42 in the final Test at Colombo when England found them in troubled waters in both situations.
His knocks helped England with important partnerships when a threat of collapse was looming over them. Their second innings at Colombo is one such example when he walked out to bat at 35 for 3 and then stitched an all-important partnership of 88 runs with Jos Buttler. His runs ultimately turned out to be the difference in the match as Sri Lanka lost by an exact margin of 42 runs.
Not only that, whenever the English spinners and their main pacers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad found the going tough against the Lankan batsmen, it was Stokes who came on to bowl and delivered England with the much-needed breakthroughs.
Such was the domination of spin in this series that the pacers bowled a combined total of 158 overs as compared to a total of 834.3 overs bowled by spinners. While Sri Lanka used just one pacer in Suranga Lakmal, who bowled 57.0 of those 158 overs, England used the likes of Anderson, Broad, Sam Curran and Stokes who bowled 41, 14, 15 and 31 overs respectively.
Out of these bowlers, it was Stokes who recorded the best figures as a pacer in this series. He accounted for 5 wickets at an average of 20.40, decent economy of 3.29 and a superb strike-rate of 37.2. The performance of all other pacers in the series was a far cry from that of Stokes.
Table: Fast bowler’s performances in Sri Lanka vs England Test series 2018
None of the other fast bowlers has been able to do what Stokes has done as seen from the table above. While everyone has struggled to trouble the batsmen in conditions not favourable for fast bowling, Stokes has gone about his business smoothly without any complaints.
In fact, he has been one of the best-visiting pacers in Asia since the time of his debut. His England teammates Anderson and Broad seem to be far behind in that respect.
Table: List of visiting fast bowlers in Asia with 10 or more wickets since Ben
Stokes’ Test debut
Stokes has got the second most number of wickets (29) by a visiting pacer in Asia since the time of his debut and the bowler ahead of him is Australia’s Mitchell Starc with just six more wickets. Stokes may not be counted amongst the best fast bowlers in the world at present but these numbers are staggering. In fact, he has the most wickets amongst England pacers in Asia during this time period.
His average of 26.48 is the sixth best amongst visiting pacers in Asia and strike-rate is the fifth best. Anderson and Broad’s averages—29.00 and 31.29—and strike-rates—76.0 and 76.9—seem to be of no match to his in that respect.
The reason behind his success as a pacer in these conditions can be attributed to his ability to find reverse swing even in unfriendly pace bowling conditions. Moreover, the way he uses the crease to his advantage and creates awkward angles for batsmen is something most bowlers don’t do. He is a very clever operator. This is one reason why he has been more successful than the likes of Broad and Anderson in these conditions. Moreover, the fact that he has some extra yards of pace as compared to them also works in his favour.
And he has used these things to good effect in these tough Sri Lankan conditions and come out on top once again. It seems like Stokes is just getting better with time. He wasn’t having the best of phases after the Bristol brawl case earlier this year. Now that he is up and running once again, many more of such performances can be expected from him in the days ahead.