An Allrounder in cricket is worth his weight in Gold. He brings balance to the side and that balance itself often helps to convert a good side into an excellent one.
Cricket for a long time was blessed to have 4 top all rounders at the same time, namely Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. However after that there were no genuine pace bowling allrounders for a long time, with Jacques Kallis and Freddy Flintoff being honourable exceptions.
Hence when Ben Stokes burst onto the cricketing scene a few years back there was quite a bit of interest. Yes, we had in the cricketing world several players like Shakib Hasan, Ravi Ashwin and Moeen Ali who could, with some justification claim to be spinning allrounders. However there were no fast bowling allrounders around.
Stokes quickly showed that he belonged to the tough world of Test cricket. He underlined his importance to the English team with more ways than one. As a batsman only, he can probably walk into anyTest Team in the world. More importantly, he had the ability to take his team out of trouble and in tight matches, that often made the difference between defeat and victory.
Let us quickly run through a few of his important achievements in Test cricket. In his very first Ashes series, he was part of an English side lost 5-0 in 2013-14. However Stokes held his own and in only his 2nd Test match scored a fighting century. He also had a 6/99 in his 4th Test claiming some important Aussie wickets. He was probably the only player who could hold his head high in that series debacle and was the 2nd highest wicket taker and 3rd highest scoring batsman.
Later on in career, at Lords versus New Zealand, Stokes hit a 1st innings 92 and a 85 ball hundred in the 2nd innings, which was the fastest ever Test century at Lords. His crucial 52 and 43 helped England take a 1-0 lead in the 2015 Ashes. In the 4th Test of the series his 6/36 helped England win the series and regain the Ashes.
At Cape Town, South Africa, he came to the side with England struggling at 166/4 but blasted his way to 258. The 200 came in 167 balls and was the second fastest 200 of all time. Later he bettered his 6/36 by taking a 6/22 versus West Indies.
The above performances show that Stokes often contributes when the team needs him to. So far, he has 6 Test tons, 3 in England and 1 each in Australia, South Africa and India. He has 4 Test Five-wicket hauls, 1 each at Australia and India and 2 in England. His importance indeed is in his ability to come in and bat boldly when his team is struggling. While his bowling is less valuable he has the ability to pick up crucial wickets. As a fielder, he takes stunning catches. And, like Freddie Flintoff, his presence itself helps his teammates to do better.
Currently, the English team touring Australia fought hard in the 1st 3 days of the 1st Test but then it all went horribly wrong for them and Australia emerged winners. Here, Stokes would have been invaluable.
However Stokes is not there due to non-cricketing reasons. As he was involved in a brawl outside a night club in which he is facing police investigation, he was suspended and not on the flight to Australia. There is still mystery whether Stokes will make a dramatic return to the team midway through the series.
Let us pause for a moment and discuss whether it was too harsh a punishment. After all, it was only a bar-brawl. Is it unknown in Europe ? On the contrary it is far too common. Also isn’t it wrong to suspend a player without hearing his version of the story. Punishment even while investigation is going on for anyone seems excessive and against the principles of natural justice. It also is very much possible that Stokes may ultimately emerge a hero, as the brawl seems to be not of his doing but to save a gay couple from the attack of homophobic street thugs. If so, it would be unfortunate that his country has missed out on his services when it definitely is most required in one of the toughest battles ever in cricket, facing Australians in Australia in the Ashes.
The mystery now becomes what Alice in Wonderland says “Curiouser and Curioser”. Stokes has flown to New Zealand to play for Canterbury on Sunday, 3rd December, while his English teammates will be fighting with the Aussies in the 2nd Test starting on 2nd December. It is unclear how the ECB has suspended him for International duty but has given him a NOC to play domestic cricket overseas.
The batting, the bowling and defiant spirit of Stokes will be missed. It looks likely that he will miss the entire Ashes since latest news is that the decision whether to charge him or not has been escalated to the Crown Prosecution Service, with the outcome not likely to be known for several weeks.
It is indeed unfortunate how such a potentially trivial issue, in which he may actually emerge a hero, prevents the world’s best allrounder from playing in the Ashes.