“I’ve been compared to Fred (Andrew Flintoff) and Beefy (Ian Botham) for quite a few years now but I’ve always said I’m not trying to emulate them or be like them whatsoever. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself.”
A couple of months back, speaking for popular fashion brand 11 Degrees, the 29-year-old Stokes said he was not burdened by the constant comparison with the legends of the game, which has been the undoing of many a fine cricketers.
The Rajasthan Royals all-rounder, whose gutsy half-century sealed the team’s win against KXIP on October 30, is a unique cricketer. Besides being a fantastic batsman and reliable bowler, the New Zealand-born England player is also a great fielder. He is not alone there, he is in great company—Gary Sobers, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and more recently Jack Kallis who lifted his team with his batting as well as bowling but he, too, couldn’t do what Stokes has done—win the World Cup singlehandedly for his country.
At one point, it wasn’t even certain that the England all-rounder would play IPL 2020 as his father is battling brain cancer in New Zealand. When he joined the Rajasthan Royals team, Stokes was below par and managed just 110 runs in the first five games without picking up a wicket. But you can’t keep Stokes down for too long and he was back with a bang when he scored 107 runs against the Mumbai Indians on October 26.
An inspiring tale off the field too
It was not just his breathtaking stroke play that caught the attention that day. When he lifted his right hand with the middle finger folded, it was a son’s tribute to his father. Gerard Stokes used to play Rugby and suffered multiple injuries and his middle finger was a constant source of pain. Dislocated several times, the finger desperately needed surgery. The game was too important for Stokes’ survival, so chose the next best option—he got the finger amputated.
“Things are a bit difficult right now but hope this has given a bit of happiness back home. Saying goodbye to my dad, my mum and my brother in Christchurch was tough. It has been a difficult time for us as a family, but we've pulled together and supported each other as best we can,” said Stokes in a chat with the host broadcaster after his unbeaten knock of 107.
The folded finger is as much a tribute to his father as to his resilience.
Man of redemption
After all, how many players have redeemed themselves after what Stokes went through at the beginning of his career? In the 2016 T20 World Cup final in Kolkata, West Indies needed 19 runs from the last over. The match was evenly poised, with pressure a tad higher on West Indies. Sent in to bowl, Stokes’ first four balls were all dispatched over the boundary for six! No bowler in the history of the world cups has had to deal with such a devastating blow.
“Ben Stokes sees his world collapse after Carlos Braithwaite’s T20 blast,” wrote The Guardian newspaper. The burden of losing a world cup can be overwhelming even career-ending but Stokes is made of sterner stuff. And, as in life as in sport, you always get a chance to redeem yourself.
Fast forward to another World Cup final. The year is 2019, the format 50 overs, the rival team is the country of his birth, New Zealand, and Stokes is batting. First, he plays out of his skin to score 84 to tie the match. And in the tie-breaking super over, he saw England home, earning the country its first ODI world cup. Again, The Guardian said it: “Ben Stokes writes his redemption story with World Cup tour de force”.
Stokes’s story is powerful, dramatic, awe-inspiring but most of all, it is a reassuring tale of redemption, of the human reserve to weather storms and rise again. Sport is not just about on-field heroics, it is as much about life outside the arena.
Almost a year before the 2019 World Cup final, Stokes was caught in a late-night brawl outside a pub in Bristol and faced a barrage of criticism and public backlash for his conduct.
As he was being toasted for his World Cup performance, The Sun tabloid splashed in grisly details a tragedy that had befallen the cricketer’s family more than 30 years ago when the Stokes lived in New Zealand. Stokes was angry but didn’t let it consume him.
"I will pride myself at the end of my career when I look back, it’s not going to be the amount of runs I’ve scored or the wickets I’ve taken, I’ll look back and say how many times have I done something in a moment in a game that turned it back in our favour and we ended up winning,” said Stokes in the same video for 11 Degrees.
(Vimal Kumar has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. The author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide can be reached @Vimalwa on Twitter)Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of IPL 2020 here