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Monday, Aug 19, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019: ‘Controversial’ Ben Stokes stands up to be counted

If the measure of a person is how he or she faces adversity, then at this World Cup, Ben Stokes has stood up to be counted.

cricket Updated: Jun 30, 2019 07:58 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Birmingham
England's Ben Stokes runs during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against India.
England's Ben Stokes runs during a training session ahead of their Cricket World Cup match against India.(AP)

Ben Stokes. Best remembered as the bowler who could not defend 19 runs in the last over of the World Twenty20 final as Carlos Brathwaite pummeled four consecutive sixes off him at Eden Gardens. Ben Stokes, the redhead in a green shirt who had knocked out a man during a scuffle near a Bristol nightclub.

Unflattering memories, but if the measure of a person is how he or she faces adversity, then at this World Cup, Stokes has stood up to be counted.

There’s Stokes, plucking a screamer out of thin air in the opening game at home after scoring a match-altering 89. His restraint and maturity while batting at this tournament has been unaffected by England’s descent to gloom; in their loss to Sri Lanka, he led the resistance with an unbeaten 82. In the loss against Australia, he stood tall again, scoring 89 and picking up a wicket when no other English batsman could even reach 30. Now when England are faced with two virtual quarter-finals, they need the Stokes touch more than ever.

Guilt is good. It necessitates atonement, sparks that determination to take on the world. Look at David Warner and Steve Smith. Look at Stokes. We know why cricket had to do without them in the past year. Now we know why cricket can’t do without them. Stokes’s case is more intriguing than the Warner and Smith saga. Even though the principal witness in the assault case had identified him as the main aggressor, it was established that Stokes, along with Alex Hales, was indeed protecting a gay couple from harassment. His action was certainly incriminating in the eyes of the law, but perhaps his heart was in the right place. But since this had happened mid-series, when a professional cricketer is not supposed to drink past curfew hours, Stokes was doubly in the wrong . Disciplining Stokes was non-negotiable despite his acquittal, but England knew the Ashes might be lost in the process. They were drubbed 4-0.

Being banished from playing for the country can be heartbreaking, but it can also be empowering, an opportunity to emerge stronger, better. Ask Mohammad Amir. Or Warner and Smith. Having finally realised his worth as an opening batsman, Warner knows he will be more damaging if he plans his innings and defends at the start. Smith wants to make the most off every ball. Ask Stokes: whitewashing Sri Lanka 3-0 right after the Ashes—England’s first sweep of an Asian tour—had a significant Stokes contribution. This World Cup, particularly, has been testimony to his will. Is Bristol behind this? Perhaps. Stokes doesn’t discount its importance. “It sounds silly but, could Bristol have been the best thing that could have happened to me? Who knows. But maybe in terms of my way of thinking,” Stokes had told ESPNcricinfo in an interview earlier this year.

England need to rally around Stokes. Their batting superiority hinges not only on the top order but also the middle order quartet of Stokes, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali; Stokes being the obvious anchor. England know they had failed Stokes in the defeat to Sri Lanka where he had raised hopes but ran out of partners. Mitchell Starc’s ball of the tournament was too good for Stokes in their last match against Australia but even then, Stokes was a lone ranger in a largely poor batting effort from England. He isn’t losing hope though. “We’ve had great support over the last four years and we know how much a World Cup means to fans. We know that as players as well. We are not going to take a backward step. This is our World Cup,” said Stokes after the defeat.

England has always adored its all-rounders—Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and now, Stokes. So these fighting words will resonate with English fans. Against India however, England face their toughest test in the World Cup—they won’t even have home support. The law of averages may catch up with Stokes— who anyway has the lowest average against India (32.50) among the top eight English batsmen. How England fare in case Stokes fails though will be a measure of their character.

First Published: Jun 29, 2019 23:24 IST

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