After Ben Stokes almost single handedly turned what looked like an embarrassing defeat for Rising Pune Supergiant into a comprehensive victory against Gujarat Lions on Monday night, captain Steve Smith divulged to the media a conversation he had with the team owners before the players auction of the 10th Indian Premier League (IPL).
Smith said: “We were very excited to get him. I had said before the auction to the guys just do what you have to to get him.”
The franchise owners did exactly that. They broke the bank for the swashbuckling England and Durham all-rounder.
In hindsight, the Rs14.5 crore ($2.16m) shelled out – the most ever paid to an overseas signing in the history of the tournament and the fourth most expensive purchase in an auction ever – appears to be fetching Pune just the kind of return on investment they were hoping for.
Despite having just a Rs19.1 crore ($2.84m) purse left for the auction, Pune decided to take a huge gamble. By spending nearly 76 per cent of their available money on just one player, it was a classic case of putting all their eggs in one basket.
After a not-so-impressive debut last year, one expected them to spruce up their side by adding a couple of quality bowlers and at least one more batsman. Instead, they went for a Superman all-rounder who could do all that by himself.
A cold, hard look at Stokes’ statistics may not sound that impressive. Thanks to that electrifying knock of 103 not out, he is now 18th in the list of most runs in this IPL at 230 in eight matches. He has a wonderful strike rate of 147.43, but again he is 18th on the list of explosive batsmen in the tournament. He has taken just six wickets so far and is 28th in the category, and his economy rate of 7.62 is good in Twenty20s, but there are 22 other bowlers who have been more miserly.
But stats alone can never determine the contribution that a player makes, especially in this shortest format of cricket. It really is about having the right impact at the right moment, and Stokes has delivered for his team time and again in that department. There is no stat category in IPL for having the maximum impact in a match but if there was, the 25-year-old would figure high on that list.
Apologies to the audacity of David Warner in making mincemeat of the Kolkata Knight Rider bowlers the other night when he smashed 126 in just 59 balls, but I’d rank Stokes’ unbeaten century against Gujarat as the best of the four hit in this edition. The reason is simple, the other three (Warner, Hashim Amla and Sanju Samson) did not come when their team was in as dire straits as Pune at 10-3.
Three of Stokes’ six wickets came in a superb outing against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Chinnaswamy Stadium is a graveyard for bowlers, especially fast bowlers, because of its small boundary. Agreed that Bangalore batting is looking like a shadow of what it used to be, but his three for 18 was a killer blow nonetheless.
Winning the Man of the Match award gives us some indication of how a player has had that kind of influence in a battle. And Stokes has now won three in his last four starts. More importantly, it has given Pune the boost it badly required to get out of the early tournament rut and compete for a place in the knock-out stage. They have now won five of their last six matches and are looking like serious contenders for the title.
The momentum is now with Pune and Stokes still has some work to do before he can finally put a seal on what has been a fantastic tournament for him.
He has proven again and again that the events of the nightmarish ICC T20 World Cup final, when he was carted around for four sixes in the final over by Carlos Brathwaite, was just an aberration. If it comes to bowling the 20th over of the IPL final on May 21, don’t be surprised if Stokes puts up his hands again.
The fact that he has handled the expectations of earning big money, his team owners and most importantly, his captain, shows that he truly is a Man of Steel.
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