It is Ben Stokes’ world and we all are simply living in it. That much was confirmed on Sunday at Headingley as the England all-rounder pulled out arguably the greatest Test innings of all time to keep the hosts alive in the Ashes.
For the second time in six weeks, Stokes turned into a national hero following his match-winning exploits at Lord’s that ended England’s excruciating wait for a maiden World Cup title.
The accolades have been pouring in from all quarters ever since with Englishmen and rivals united in their praise for Stokes’ extraordinary heroics at Headingley.
“Arise, Sir Ben Stokes” was a common theme across social media after his stupendous unbeaten innings of 135 with calls to award him the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award already growing stronger.
Battling against heavy odds at Headingley, Stokes evoked the same spirits that spurred former England all-rounders Ian Botham and Andre Flintoff to Ashes glory as he sunk to his knees after smashing the winning boundary off Pat Cummins. It was in stark contrast to three years ago in Kolkata when Stokes sunk to his knees in similar fashion but for a completely different reason.
On that occasion, he had been taken to the cleaners by Carlos Brathwaite in the 2016 T20 World Cup final with the Windies all-rounder’s stunning assault clinching the title for the Caribbean style in dramatic style.
From agony at Kolkata to ecstasy at Headingley, life has indeed come a full circle for Stokes. Those three years in between haven’t exactly been covered in glory either for the all-rounder who has never been far from controversy.
His Bristol nightclub incident in 2017 where he was ultimately found not guilty of affray damaged his reputation severely with the England and Wales Cricket Board slapping on him an eight-month ban along with stripping him of his Test vice-captaincy.
Stokes was subsequently dropped from England’s Ashes 2017-18 touring party with Australia going on to comprehensively win the series by 4-0. Since then, Stokes has kept a low profile in his return to international cricket before the limelight caught up with his brilliance in the World Cup.
“I’m not going to suddenly be an angel because that’s not me,” Stokes had said England’s World Cup winning campaign.
“It’s just about trying to make better decisions but I don’t think of this in terms of being a second opportunity.”
The better decisions Stokes talked about haven’t been limited to his off-field choices but on the field of cricket as well. Stokes’ maturity was evident in the 2019 World Cup and it has come to the fore even more prominently in the Ashes.
Five half-centuries including his innings in the Lord’s final were struck by Stokes in the tournament and almost every one of them came when the chips were down for England. Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting had made the same observation when he tagged Stokes as England’s go-to-man for the Ashes.
“It seems like he’s playing with a lot of maturity. He doesn’t seem like he’s in much of a rush now as he might have been. The thing about his personality as well, he’s a big, strong, brash guy with a bit of an ego … and I think as a younger person probably everything was flat out – one speed,” Ponting had said of Stokes’ World Cup displays.
“To me, it seems like he was able to understand situations and play situations accordingly. That’s a bit of maturity and understanding his own game and understanding what his team needs him to do.”
That is exactly what the Englishman has done in the Ashes with his tons at Lord’s and now Headingley coming at crucial junctures for the hosts. His ability to raise his game in the heat of battle makes Stokes unlike any player going around in world cricket.
It is true that he has had his fair share of luck in both the World Cup final and the third Ashes Test with a deflected overthrow for six runs at Lord’s and a wrongly turned down lbw appeal by Nathan Lyon at Headingley going in his and England’s favour.
But as they say, fortune favours the brave and Stokes has been just that.
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