London: Ben Stokes would be the first to say England are more than a one-man team but if anyone sums up their revival in limited overs cricket it is the dynamic Durham all-rounder.
Just over two years since a defeat by Bangladesh in Adelaide sealed their embarrassing first-round exit from the 2015 World Cup, England face the Tigers in the Champions Trophy opener at The Oval on Thursday with genuine optimism they can at last win a first major one-day international tournament.
Part of the reason for that is Stokes. The son of a former New Zealand rugby league international, he also had cricket in his genes thanks to his mother, Deborah, a noted player.
Born in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, Stokes moved with his parents to England as a boy when his father, Ged, got a job coaching northwest rugby league club Workington.
It was soon clear he had inherited his mother’s talent, with Ged Stokes telling the Daily Mirror, “Deb was a very good cricketer and I was okay. At a very early age, before he left New Zealand, he started showing signs he could develop into a very good cricketer. He had an instinctive technique and style of play — it was very basic, almost ‘see ball, hit ball.”
File image of England all rounder Ben Stokes. ReutersFile image of England all rounder Ben Stokes. Reuters
That same uninhibited approach, albeit with a few refinements, remains at the heart of left-handed batsman Stokes’s approach at the crease.
For all the 25-year-old’s power strokeplay — as exemplified in his blistering 79-ball 101 featuring 11 fours and three sixes during England’s two-run win in the second one-day international against South Africa at Southampton on Saturday — Stokes’s batting is based on a sound straight drive.
His aggressive approach is one that has served him well in all formats, as he showed with a blistering Test-match 258 from 198 balls against South Africa at Cape Town last year.
On his day, and in the right conditions, he can also be an effective right-arm swing bowler.
But in age where all bowlers can get ‘collared’ in white-ball cricket, Stokes suffered when, having to defend 19 in the last over of the 2016 World Twenty20 final in Kolkata, he was hit for four successive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite as the West Indies completed an improbable victory.
England’s hope is that this remains his lone ‘nightmare’ spell with the ball, with Stokes resilient enough to absorb the experience.
In any case, the West Indies have not qualified for the Champions Trophy, which means that Marlon Samuels, who likes to get under the skin of his opponents, will not be around to ‘salute’ a dismissed batsman when in the field — a gesture that has riled the combative Stokes.
Proof of the growing regard in which Stokes, also a fine close catcher, is held came when he was paid a record $2.16 million to play in this year’s Indian Premier League.
Stokes was instrumental in Rising Pune Supergiant reaching the knockout phase, scoring 316 runs in 12 matches, with a highest of 103 not out, and taking 12 wickets on his way to being named player of the tournament before a recall to an England squad session meant he missed the final of the lucrative Twenty20 event.
“It was an amazing tournament to be part of,” Stokes said recently. “And getting the MVP (most valuable player) is obviously something you strive for when you play in tournaments like that.”
Stokes’s left knee, which was operated on last year, however, is preventing him from doing much bowling at the moment.
The joint is not yet quite the topic of national conversation that Denis Compton’s knee was when the England batting great was having injury problems in the 1950s and Durham star Stokes tried to play down concerns by saying Saturday: “It’s just the bowling that’s getting affected by my knee.
“Batting, fielding and running around isn’t an issue.” England will settle for that.