The cricket world is still buzzing from the exploits of Ben Stokes on the final day of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s. In the sort of performance that has become the hallmark of the England Test captain, he seemed on his way to securing another magical win for his team. However, the challenge proved to be too much in the end, even for the indefatigable Stokes.
However, this innings wasn’t just a great spectacle, but a very good sign for the times to come as far as England’s Test team is concerned. They may have fallen 2-0 behind in the series, but the home side in the Ashes may have regained their biggest weapon.
Ben Stokes – The player and the captain
Since the start of his tenure as captain, Ben Stokes has presided over a great run of success. After a miserable spell of one win in 17 Test matches before Stokes took over, the English team witnessed an improbable resurgence.
This produced 11 wins in 13 Tests under the leadership of the talismanic all-rounder and coach Brendon McCullum, prior to Ashes 2023.
Stokes was proving to be a very successful captain who was doing everything right. But there was one area, a major one, where he seemed to be failing miserably.
It was in getting the best out of his team’s best all-round performer – Ben Stokes himself. In his zeal to set an example of positivity and ruthlessness with the bat, Stokes, a batsman with a very sound technique and wide range of shots, was batting with utmost recklessness.
He was slogging from the beginning of his innings and getting out playing shots which were ill-suited to a player of his quality. The rationale for batting this way could be seen – He wanted to show the team that they should be fearless, but the thin line between daring and foolhardy was often crossed by him.
People often forget how good a batsman Ben Stokes is. He was England’s best player with the bat some years ago, when Joe Root was under-achieving and no other batsmen seemed capable of delivering consistently for England. This made it all the more annoying to see him not put a great price on his wicket.
He did score a hundred against South Africa in the home series last year. But that was a rare high point in his batting during the first year of his captaincy.
England’s struggles in Ashes 2023 and Ben Stokes’ response
In the ongoing Ashes, England’s seemingly careless approach with the bat cost them heavily in the first Test. The first innings of the second Test also witnessed the Poms showing aggression devoid of sensibility. It was clear that Bazball – as the media calls England’s new style of playing – was leading to irresponsible batting.
However, amidst the shambolic batting from England, there was something very encouraging for the team and its fans in their first innings of the second Test. Their captain decided to bat in a very different manner from his recent knocks.
Ben Stokes scored 17 from 58 balls in that innings. He was happy to leave deliveries outside off stump and use his solid defense to block ones that weren’t necessary to hit.
This knock came in a phase of play where Australia had prized out three important wickets of England’s top order in a relatively small amount of time.
It was clear that Stokes wasn’t going to throw his wicket away in a reckless attempt to counter Australia’s short-ball barrage, which had brought about those three wickets.
When he got out, it was to a roaring delivery from Mitchell Starc which rose sharply and took the edge as the left-handed batsman tried to play it onto the leg side.
In England’s second innings, Ben Stokes came out to bat in a full-blown crisis for his team. The hosts were 45/4 in their chase of 371. Once again, the England captain decided to opt for grit and grind, rather than flamboyance and daredevilry.
He batted with patience, almost sedately, and played second fiddle to Ben Duckett, who was getting boundaries regularly.
Their 132-run partnership revived England’s hopes. But soon, things went awry as England were 193/6 and all recognized batsmen, except Stokes, were back in the pavilion. That’s when the team’s skipper decided to spread his wings and flex his muscles.
He suddenly went into beast mode and pulverized Australia’s bowling. What was significant in this display of power-hitting was the method to the madness. He wasn’t just swinging his bat wildly, but carefully targeting the right deliveries and aiming for the right areas. This was Headingley 2019 all over again.
In that epic knock from four years ago too, Stokes showed enormous patience early on, before going into all-out attack mode at the end. He was doing it to Australia once again.
While his audacious knock may have ended without the desired result, Stokes’ knocks in both innings have signalled a massive threat for Australia and other teams. Ben Stokes – the top-quality batsman – is back. He is out of his carefree slogger mode.
Possessing both a defiant technique and crushing power, he can take on any situation and produce the perfect knock. This is a great sign for the long run.
Ben Stokes has the potential to be a leading batsman in the world. He is much scarier for the opposition when playing that role than just hitting out.
If the England captain decides to use this template permanently, he will be a major threat to all opposition sides. This is the biggest takeaway from his exploits at Lord’s. The innings was transient, but the method should stay.
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