England’s embarrassing capitulation in the final t20 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium proved all too familiar as a torturous winter came to an end. An ODI series win in Bangladesh is all England have to show for their efforts as India showcased their dominance at home by winning all three trophies on offer. Indeed, England came within five runs of their first white-ball series win in India since 1984. But they fell easy prey in the Test arena and work is still to be done if they are to win the Champions Trophy on home soil this summer at the third time of asking.
Ben Stokes provided light in a winter of darkness as his willingness to affect games for his team never wavered. The Durham all-rounder scored 787 runs in all formats at an average of 39.35, including two centuries, and took 28 wickets at 30.57. It becomes more apparent with each game that what Stokes brings to the team cannot be measured through statistics. But his remarkable desire to win and commitment to be involved in every aspect of the game is crucial to any winning side. Of course, no 16 matches with Stokes participating in will be without incident; just ask Virat Kohli, Shakib-Al-Hasan, or the poor ball boy who gave him a sore lip. Here’s how he faired in each format over the course of the winter:
Just two months after Stokes made it his goal to score more ODI runs, he had his maiden century. Showing an improved defensive game and overall batting mind set, the all-rounder found the perfect balance between attack and defence as he made 101 off 100 balls to guide England to a competitive total in the first game of the winter. Speaking during the ODI series against Pakistan, Stokes said, ‘‘I have worked hard on my defensive game. After the UAE tour where I struggled against the spin, I knew it was something I needed to work on. I think sometimes I have been drawn into trying to be too aggressive too early. I don’t need to be going out and reverse sweeping and sweeping for four and six.’’
Stokes’ contributions to his team reach further than with bat and ball. During the same match, Bangladesh had been well placed on 271-4, needing just another 39 runs to take a 1-0 lead. However, during a drinks break, Stokes inspired his team-mates to bowl the hosts out for 288 in a dramatic collapse which saw England take a 1-0 lead. Jos Buttler, who was stand-in captain for the series, spoke of Stokes’ influence during the game. ’’I thought I had got it all wrong but we kept believing and Stokesy got everyone together on the outfield and told us to fight to the end. He’s quite forceful when he speaks and it made all the difference.’’
After scoring 47 not out in the final ODI against Bangladesh to secure a series win, Stokes continued his momentum with the bat into the series against India. He scored 62 off 40 balls in the first match and 57* off 39 balls in the third as on both occasions England passed 300. Since aiming to contribute more runs to the ODI team, Stokes has scored 469 runs at an average of 67. Furthermore, the all-rounder proved more successful with the ball against India as he took three wickets on his infamous return to Kolkata as England restored some pride with a win in the final match.
England faced a mammoth schedule of seven Test matches in eight weeks, all in gruelling conditions. Stokes emerged from the demanding schedule having scored 473 runs at an average of 33.79, and added another 19 wickets.
The Test series against India was ultimately fruitless for England, but Stokes still managed his 4th century of his career during the first Test, and on a 4th different continent just for good measure. During the third Test at Mohali, he took his third five-wicket haul (26.2-5-73-5) – and yes, on three different continents.
England’s talisman would have been frustrated that his efforts in India could not contribute to a winning effort. However, Stokes was again instrumental in achieving England’s only red ball success of the winter. During one of the most exciting Test matches of recent times which saw all four innings produce scores in between 240-293; Stokes took the final two wickets on the fifth morning as Bangladesh needed only another 22 runs to achieve a famous win. Stokes finished with outstanding match figures of 25.3-7-46-6 as he executed reverse swing as good as anyone in the world currently. Furthermore, after England had fallen to 62-5 in their second innings, Stokes rallied his team’s cause by accumulating a mature 85 off 151 deliveries.
England only played three matches in what is arguably their strongest format currently. Stokes bowled 11 out of a possible 12 overs, taking just two wickets at a very respectable economy rate given the high-scoring nature of Indian conditions. The all-rounder played another crucial innings during the second match, scoring 38 off 27 balls after being bowled off a no ball while on five. Stokes’ dismissal was pivotal in England falling short of the required target.
Ben Stokes can be extremely proud of what he achieved this winter. To play a total of 16 international matches over a short space of time is a tough ask for any batsman or bowler, but doubly for an all-rounder. Nevertheless, Stokes will return home extremely frustrated that his team have little to show for their efforts. However, once the dust of the past few months has settled, England’s most important cricketer can use the sobering experience gained in India as England look to retain the urn next winter.