Exciting England all-rounder Ben Stokes is already beginning to resemble former home hero Andrew Flintoff on the evidence of his work with both bat and ball on the third day of the second Test with India at Lord’s.
The Durham man actually first broke into the England setup three years ago on the back of a number of impressive batting displays for his county, with Stokes generally thought of at that time as being a batsman who could also turn his arm over if needed, much like Flintoff too when he made his Test debut in 1998.
And following Stokes’ maiden Test century, in just his second match, against Australia at the WACA in December—the 23-year-old was the only England player to score a hundred in last winter’s Ashes series—that thinking was only further strengthened.
However, since that memorable ton in Perth, Stokes has barely made a run in international cricket, with the Christchurch-born youngster’s record with the bat this year reading like a number in an overseas telephone directory.
Since January 26, when England played Australia in a one-day international, Stokes has scored 0, 5, 5, 4, 0, 4, 0, 0, 0—the last of those three successive ducks coming in the first session on Saturday after being castled by canny India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
All in all, therefore, that now makes it 18 runs from 43 balls in Stokes’ last nine innings for England in all forms of the game at a paltry average of two. It mirrors Flintoff’s own struggles with the bat when he first played for his country, the burly Lancastrian even bagging an ignominious pair in just his second Test against South Africa at Headingley 16 years ago.
The one thing, though, which kept Freddie in the side in the early part of his international career was his ability to take wickets, sometimes even with innocuous deliveries—a characteristic Stokes appears to have fortunately picked up as well.
One of the great advantages of being an all-rounder, of course, is that if one part of your game is not functioning well, then at least you always have another chance to contribute to the team cause via the other.
And that is something which Stokes has managed to do in this Test, the ginger-haired paceman finishing with excellent figures of two for 40 from 17.4 overs in India’s first innings—the most economical of all England’s bowlers—including the prize scalp of Cheteshwar Pujara, bowled middle stump by an absolute beauty.
Meanwhile, after the tourists had made an ominously solid start to their second innings at a sun-drenched Lord’s on Saturday afternoon, it was that man with the golden arm who made the crucial first breakthrough after the dangerous Shikhar Dhawan carved a long hop straight to Joe Root at point.
Stokes may have ended the day with just that one wicket from his 13 overs of hard graft, but that was no reflection whatsoever of just how well he had bowled, particularly in a fearsome spell just after tea when he got the ball to spit nastily off a length on more than one occasion.
Just ask Pujara, after India’s most technically accomplished batsman was smashed on the fingers by one fearsome delivery from Stokes as wicketkeeper Matt Prior was increasingly forced to take a number of steepling balls high above his head.
In fact, there is no doubt that the home side’s three wickets late on came about from the pressure and uncertainty which Stokes had managed to create in that eye-catching burst, when the fast bowler extracted more pace and bounce from the surface than anyone else so far in the Test.
And with a more than useful ability to get the ball to reverse swing too, which we have also seen on occasion during the past three days at the home of cricket, then Stokes is fast developing into a bowler with a number of dangerous tools at his disposal.
Flintoff ended up with a batting average of 31 after his 79 Tests, with five hundreds, although it still took him four years to score his maiden century, while Stokes’ average going into this game was also 31.
Freddie also managed to capture 226 wickets at 32, including three five-fors—however, judging from what we have seen so far with the ball from Stokes, there is more than a good chance he too will end up with a similar haul come the end of his international career.
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