“This was, in every sense, a strong and purposeful display of his might by the star all-rounder”
Redemption is a word with a medium sized spelling but does not let the medium size of that grouping of the alphabets befool you into believing that it could mean something that is easily accomplished. Instead, redemption can be the greatest task accomplished by a human being in his lifetime. It is an onerous journey where a person constantly fights with his inner self more than anyone else in this world.
The gravitas of this taxing journey can be best epitomized by the hero of our today’s story who, at the moment, seems in no mood to leave any stones unturned, in all the three departments of our beloved sport, to send a strong signal in the cricketing circles that he has successfully buried the ghosts of his shady past and has focussed all his energies towards just a solitary goal i.e. helping his team lift its maiden World Cup Trophy. We are, here, talking about the mercurial, yet maligned, English all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Let’s paddle back a little in time to the year 2017. August has just passed by and everything seems to be going very well for Stokes. He has appeared in 59 ODI games for his nation and averages 33.78 runs per inning while also giving away 39.14 runs for each of his 50 wickets. These are decent numbers for a player who is expected to contribute in both the domains of batting and bowling. Besides these two skills, Stokes also contributed almost equally with the much-wanted on-field athleticism. He was all set to board the flight for his second Ashes down-under until the tragedy gods decided to pick him up from outside a pub on a September (2017) night in Bristol.
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Charges of an altercation with two individuals were levied against him. Almost a year-long legal battled ensued which was responsible for his play-pause international appearances between September 2017 and August 2018 – when he was finally cleared of all the charges pressed against him. But have you ever wondered what was lost in this year-long process? Besides the prestigious Ashes ticket, what would have hurt the all-rounder most was the huge loss to his reputation as a leading cricketing icon of his generation. That, in simple terms, was just huge and irreparable.
Now, fast track the clock to 29th of May 2019. It’s the eve of the inaugural match of the 2019 edition of the mega-cricketing fair which graces all and sundry with its presence once in every four years. There are talks going around everywhere. Almost everyone in the cricketing fraternity is busy foretelling the future of the next six weeks. Favorite teams are being vehemently backed while favorite players are being enthusiastically picked. The atmosphere is charged and all set for a mouth-watering start to the mega-event with the hosts, England pitted against a refreshing South African side.
While England were heading into the match as slight favorites, their premium seam-bowling all-rounder was under the pump from quite some time, especially for his lackluster bowling display ever since his return after that Bristol incident. While Stokes’ batting average since September 2017 stood at 51 runs per inning – a sizeable 18-point increase over his numbers in the period before September 2017, his bowling average slid down to an ignominious 55.15 runs per wicket – a big 16-point difference but in the negative direction.
The doubts which were raised over his abilities or the questions which were cast upon his all-round role in the team needed a strong showing to be quenched to death and boy! Stokes did pull out an equally impressive show in the tournament opener when he starred in all the three dimensions of our game to help England register a convincing 104-run win over the Proteas. Coming to bat at no.5 in the 20th over of the inning, Stokes made his determination clear by the way he offered a solid, compact defense to a pacy delivery from Kagiso Rabada first-up.
Have you EVER seen a better catch? ?
Ben Stokes with a grab that has to be seen to be believed!#WeAreEngland #CWC19 pic.twitter.com/rpN04OxVTk
— ICC (@ICC) May 30, 2019
While the skipper Eoin Morgan took over the onus of boundary hitting, Stokes stealthily settled himself in by taking his time as he nudged his way to 16 off his first 25 deliveries. The shackles were finally broken on the third ball of the 29th over, i.e. after almost 10 overs of his arrival at the crease, when a crunching drive through the cover region found the fence for the first time for the left-hander. There was no looking back after that confidence booster as Stokes pulled out a cheeky reverse lap off Dwayne Pretorius to bring up his fifty in just 45 balls.
England lost their way a bit as they approached the death overs as the South African bowlers were able to jolt them with a few handy strikes but Stokes stood his ground as if he was on a pre-determined mission to steer his team’s boat into the safe waters. He did achieve that task for his team as he ensured that England breach the psychologically crucial 300-run mark before his dismissal on the last ball of the penultimate over. Stokes’ magnificence with the bat yielded a total of 89 runs from just 79 balls.
Ben Stokes with the bat, Ben Stokes with the ball, Ben Stokes on the field!
No question about who's the Player of the Match in the #CWC19 opener ? #ENGvSA #WeAreEngland pic.twitter.com/2pZwa10xEt
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) May 30, 2019
But his genius didn’t stop here. He is not a character who can live with an only one-dimensional contribution for his team. His next big contribution in the match came when he snaffled Andile Phehlukwayo through what was arguably one of the greatest catches in the game’s history. After coming in far too much at the mid-wicket boundary, Stokes back-peddled quickly to pull off a one-handed air-borne grab behind his head to send Phehlukwayo packing towards the pavilion. His glorious outing was capped off by the twin wickets of Rabada and Imran Tahir, in just 2.5 overs, as he wrapped off the South African tail in the 40th over of the chase.
This was, in every sense, a strong and purposeful display of his might by the star all-rounder. A performance, which had been so complete that it will, henceforth, ignite only the positive vibes about Stokes’ utility in the team and will dead-quench the heathen questions which were raising their ugly heads towards his competence as an all-rounder for England at the start of the World Cup campaign. It’s safe to say that, henceforth, every good outing in this World Cup will bring Stokes within the touching distance of the end of his redemption story.