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Ben Stokes – Cricketer of the Year 2016

Wisden India logo Wisden India 06-05-2016

During a summer in which the Ashes were regained, the limited-overs teams rebooted and an audience re-energised, few embodied England’s unshackled cricket as vividly as Ben Stokes. Having been dropped from both the Test and World Cup squads over the previous 12 months, he set about starring in a series of match-changing interventions and incidents. Consistency was not the point: his contribution was about more than numbers.

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Flame-haired, sporting tattoos and straining every sinew, Stokes felt at times more rock star than cricketer – especially during the First Test against New Zealand, where a virtuoso performance turned the Lord’s crowd up to 11 on the amplifier and lacked only a guitar-smashing finale. A dashing 92 from 94 balls on the first day to help dig England out of a 30-for-four-shaped hole was just a taster for an 85-ball century on the fourth – a Test record at Lord’s, with Alastair Cook compiling a nine-hour 162 at the other end. “Cooky wasn’t telling me to stop, so that was a good sign,” says Stokes.

As Joe Root led the celebrations from the balcony with a military salute, Stokes’s hundred felt cathartic – not just for him, but for an England side emerging from 18 months of acrimony. As with the incident Root was mimicking – Stokes’s send-off from Marlon Samuels in the Caribbean a month earlier – the pictures went viral. By way of an encore, and thanks to the time bought by his own batting, Stokes then claimed three wickets, including Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum with successive balls. It was a victory charge watched by supporters who – on a Monday in May, no less – had queued down Wellington Road to get in.

Such batting feats proved tough to sustain, and his season became one of cameos, though a watchful 87 in the Second Ashes Test at Lord’s hinted at a growing maturity. Not until Cape Town in January 2016, when he made a sensational 258 from 198 balls, the highest score by a Test No. 6, did everything come together. It was rated by many as the most destructive innings ever played by an England batsman.

In the field, Stokes was a prowling presence at backward point or fifth slip, where he held the catch of the summer, a diving one-hander to remove Adam Voges and prompt that reaction from Stuart Broad during Australia’s first- morning meltdown at Trent Bridge. It stuck, Stokes claims, only because three operations had left his right index finger permanently crooked.

His fast-medium was muscular and fiery, even though it didn’t always bring a cascade of wickets. At least not until the second innings in Nottingham, where he marshalled late swing to pick up six for 36 and, in tandem with Durham team-mate Mark Wood, help secure the urn. In white-ball cricket, Stokes remained a talent with which to persevere, rather than an established force. But his bowling improved, and he masterfully closed out the Twenty20 against Australia in Cardiff.

His fast-medium was muscular and fiery, even though it didn’t always bring a cascade of wickets. At least not until the second innings in Nottingham, where he marshalled late swing to pick up six for 36 and, in tandem with Durham team-mate Mark Wood, help secure the urn. In white-ball cricket, Stokes remained a talent with which to persevere, rather than an established force. But his bowling improved, and he masterfully closed out the Twenty20 against Australia in Cardiff.

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BENJAMIN ANDREW STOKES was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on June 4, 1991, and moved to the UK aged 12 when his father Ged, a former rugby league forward with one cap for the Kiwis, became coach of Workington Town in Cumbria. Stokes played both rugby codes and cricket – the sport of his mother, Deborah – at Cockermouth School and local clubs. And sport took precedence over academia. “I even played football once,” he recalls, “but that was to get out of a detention.”

Spotted by Durham when playing for Cumbria age-groups, he joined their Academy in 2006, aged 15, with his parents committing to a twice-weekly, five-hour round trip across the Pennines. “I didn’t realise what they were doing for me, taking me to something that would end up being my job.” He watched Durham secure back-to-back Championships in 2008 and 2009, making a List A debut in the second of those two gilded seasons – and claiming Mark Ramprakash at The Oval as his first senior scalp. England’s Under-19 World Cup campaign in New Zealand that winter brought him a round 100 against India at Lincoln, before a first-class debut against MCC in Abu Dhabi kick- started a breakthrough season. Stokes made 740 Championship runs, topped the Durham averages, and was picked by the Lions. The following summer he was playing in a One-Day International in Dublin.

Progress has not always been smooth. His Lions tour to Australia in 2012-13 ended early when he and Kent’s Matt Coles were sent home after one night out too many. The presence of Andy Flower, the England team director, made it bad timing. “A few things he said did take me aback, and I said a few things in return,” says Stokes. “But coming home set my mind as to how I wanted to do things. It helped get me where I am.”

Durham were first to benefit, securing a third Championship title in 2013, with Stokes contributing 615 runs and 42 wickets. It earned him an Ashes tour, from which he would emerge as England’s one shining light, scoring a maiden international hundred in his second Test, at Perth, then claiming six for 99 at Sydney.

Briefly, Stokes stalled. He missed the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh after breaking his wrist with an open-handed slap on a dressing-room locker during a 20-over international in Barbados. And his return to the Test side that summer ended after three ducks against India. But a brutal 164 off 113 balls against Nottinghamshire in the Royal London One-Day Cup semi-final was a reminder of his gifts. When he was left out of the 2015 World Cup, rival teams expressed disbelief, which stemmed from the knowledge that Stokes had the talent to produce moments of wonder. He has since proved them right.

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