The Souring Fruits of Ben Stokes, The Bowler

March 7, 2019

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Have you ever wondered what can be the perfect definition for a professional cricket team?

A professional cricket team can be defined as an ensemble of the best players in business and those best players can represent a geographical area as small as a littoral club or as big as a nation state. The dream of being a part of one’s national cricket team illuminates millions of eyes across the world but that zenith of the national pride can only be achieved by a few gifted (and destined) ones. In that sense, a cricket team of any nation is an ensemble of rarities.

But this ensemble remains incomplete if it fails to provide a proper balance to the team. There are various skill-sets which have to be present in the right amounts to make-up a well-rounded team, capable of dominating in all the departments of our game of 22-yards. Though individuals proficient only in batting or the bowling departments are also a necessity as they serve as the pillars which bear the weight of the arch of team’s dominance yet the arch can fall apart if a proper keystone is absent from the structure. So where to find that all-important keystone?

The answer lies in the ambidextrous players who have dual proficiencies in the art of wielding the willow along with the expertise of making the ball talk. Add to the above mixture, brilliant athleticism in the field and you will get a cricketing talent called the all-rounder, which is desperately craved for by every team in the world, and if that all-rounder provides a genuine pace bowling option along with his high-octane batting skills, he/she becomes the sine qua non inclusion for the team and a jewel of high envy for the opposition. The current jewel of the aforementioned kind in the English Cricket goes by the name of Ben Stokes.

Stokes is a brilliant amalgamation of pace along with a very good batting technique. He is a kind of player who can qualify in the team solely on the basis of any one of his dual skills. He is a very reliable batsman in the middle-order, evident by his batting average which hovers north of the 36-run mark, and has the prodigious ability to move the ball consistently at speeds in high 130s with some even clocking as high as the mid-140 km/h mark. His bowling average of 40.67 runs per wicket may seem a bit high but is very much acceptable considering his role of a sixth bowler in the team. For some cricket pundits he is in his own league but for some, he is the torch-bearer of the flame carried by legendary all-rounders like Sir Ian Botham, Sir Richard Hadley, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, and Andrew Flintoff among others.

But for some reason, that prized jewel in the English cricket team has not been able to shine in both the skill-sets uniformly in the past eight months. To vindicate this hypothesis, one must dissect his career into two halves – one before 01 July 2018 and the other one after this date. The former period will reflect the records of an ‘almost ideal’ seam-bowling all-rounder having a batting average of 35.82 runs per inning to go with a bowling average of 38.01 runs per wicket, with a very minor average difference of -2.19.

Ask the Indian team of the importance of having a seam-bowling all-rounder of this calibre. They have been searching for such a talent for ages now. England not only possessed that talent but were also benefiting from its full prowess, after all, Stokes is still in his youthful days. But then came the ill-fated July of 2018, when all the good accumulated in the career of seven years started going downhill.

Stokes’ batting, in the period since July 01 of last year, has been more solid with an increased average of 42.42 runs per inning but his fruits with the ball have turned sour. He has appeared in 12 games, bowling in 9 innings since the dawn of July 2018, and has returned with an average of 71.40 runs per dismissal whose tally remains abysmally low at 5. These are the figures when he had the fourth highest number of overs among English bowlers in his kitty during this period. The average difference among his two skill-sets comes out to be a whopping figure of -28.97.

It is not only that his bowling averages have taken a beating but his economy rate has also deteriorated as compared to the part of his career before July 1 last year. Stokes’ economy of 6.6 runs per over from Jul 2018 reflects his increased extravagance in bowling as he was already going run-a-ball in the ODIs prior to the dissection date of this analysis. Also, all of his five wickets in the later part have come in the recently concluded ODI series against the Windies, meaning that he has nothing to show for in his wickets’ column for his bowling labours (of 28 overs precisely) during the ODI series against India at home and in the Sri Lankan dustbowls. Clearly, these are not good signs for England, in general, and Stokes, in particular.

Stokes is a very important driving force in the English cricketing set-up. His reputation is that of a player who always remains in action, whether with the ball or the bat or in the field. He is believed to be a kind of a player who makes things happen on the cricket field. Surely, these reputations have suffered a beating in the past eight months or so and do not fit well with England’s 2019 Cricket World Cup preparations, a World Cup for which they are considered to be the front-runners for the title.

But with the perceptions of England being a batting-heavy team doing the rounds, Stokes, along with the English bowling unit, will want to address the chinks in their bowling armours which can, otherwise, turn into an Achilles Heel for their vigorous maiden title pursuit.

With only six ODI games remaining before the marquee event begins in June, it’s time for Stokes to do justice to his reputation.

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Author: Naimish Gupta

Naimish is a cricket enthusiast who finds ways to keep up with his cricketing passion even in the busiest of schedules as a healthy dose of cricket acts like a relaxing sensation after a hectic dose of work. He has worked with the likes of The Quint, The Citizen, Cricxtasy, Sportskeeda and Follow Your Sports, to provide cricketing nit-bits to the readers from his prism of thought

Twitter @inaimish97

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