Ben Stokes isn’t quite in the groove as far Test cricket is concerned and he isn’t having the impact he would have liked. After missing the 2017-18 Ashes, Stokes played the two Tests against New Zealand and apart from a defiant 66 in the first Test, he has failed to create the buzz.
Against Pakistan at Lord’s, he showed the intensity at times, but overall he couldn’t quite convince as a crucial middle-order batsman. And now there are injury concerns as well.
The England team, who were sweating hard over all-rounder Stokes regarding injury, saw the player be ruled out as they went in to a must-win second Test against Pakistan at Headingley, Leeds. Joe Root’s side needed their vitality man Stokes in order to have a go at the in-form Asian team and draw the two-match series 1-1. But the race against time story went against their favour.
During this crucial phase, one needs its vital cog to get there in the middle and produce substance, but Stokes’ concerns have added to the misery. When England was pummelled by the Aussies, one felt the absence of Stokes played a big part as he was a missing link for the side. The visitors lost the series 0-4 and although Stokes would not have saved inept England, he surely would have provided more steel.
After his return to action, the impact has gone away. Stokes ruled the Test scenario last season and that made him a household name. So where has it all gone wrong? With a vital series against India next, England needs Stokes at his very best. So where does he stand, what’s next?
Stokes’ injury concerns a telling factor
This is a matter of concern for the England management, and skipper Joe Root will be wary of the repercussions it is having on the team. The last thing he needs is his key player missing out, especially after the huge loss in the first Test. Stokes was in a desperate situation as he attempted to prove his fitness for the second Test against Pakistan.
But he was ruled out prior to the game. The all-rounder suffered a hamstring injury but still spent some time in the nets with the bat and ran at full intensity on Thursday.
County side Surrey’s left arm seamer Sam Curran, who was already drafted into the squad as his cover, got his debut.
Earlier, against New Zealand too, there was an injury concern regarding Stokes. He had hurt his back and the injury propelled him to miss bowling in the first Test at Auckland, which his side lost by an innings and 49 runs.
Stokes’ outing at Lord’s was a mixed show
A total of 47 runs and three wickets is what Stokes managed in the first Test against Pakistan. Although, what was pleasant to watch was the hard work he put in especially running hard to bowl 22 overs in the first innings. Along with James Anderson, Stokes’ 3/73 was an effort to show how valuable he is to the side.
But it’s the batting where he needs to develop and play differently from the rest. He looked a touch good for his 38 runs where he timed the ball to perfection and negotiated the Pak pacers well. But a lapse of concentration against Mohammad Abbas saw his feet get stuck to the crease and that had him. A wild shot in the next innings saw him depart quickly at a time when England needed someone to stay and deliver.
Having said that, Stokes being the player he is and the standards he sets for himself, the performances will not please him. He knows he can win games for England, and looking back he will be miffed with his decision making.
2017 saw Stokes in great touch
When you look at Stokes’ contribution for England in 2017, it was a different ball game altogether. He played a total of seven Tests last year against South Africa and West Indies respectively and what defined him was the bulk of runs he came up with. Two tons also made him bring a lot of character to the side.
Not only his runs helped England stay alive, but the manner in which he faced the likes of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Co. there was plenty of charisma as his footwork was solid. Against the Windies too, his intent from ball one showed, as he enjoyed a valued time on the pitch.
One thing that defined him was the responsibility. He adapted to the conditions well and highlighted his prowess as an all-rounder. His 112 versus the Proteas at the Oval will be remembered for long. His application against the spinners was a class above the rest. Getting runs at No. 6 brought so much joy to any side.
|BEN STOKES (2017)
|VS SOUTH AFRICA
|VS WEST INDIES
And what’s the scenario now?
Now the confidence in batting seems to be lagging and as mentioned earlier, the footwork issue is visible. But what is more interesting is that, since England are struggling as a whole, that, in turn, has transpired into individuals. Besides that 66, Stokes hasn’t quite spent that desired time in the middle. The average of a mere 25 tells the story. It has fallen 18 rungs.
Stokes in 2018 – Overall
And with a 5-match series against India in August, Stokes needs to come good as much as his team. As James Anderson pointed out, England need some great individual shows to get them back. Perhaps an indication towards the all-rounder. That’s the kind of bearing he has in the side.