In January 2016, Ben Stokes smashed many a record en route a 198-ball 258 at Cape Town. He then got five wickets in each of the Tests at Johannesburg and Centurion. Asked to defend 19 in an over two months later in the World T20 final at the Eden Gardens, he was hit for four sixes by Carlos Brathwaite. Just over a year after this, he redeemed himself by winning the MVP at the IPL, for Rising Pune Supergiants.
About four months after that, he was injured during a bar brawl at Bristol when he was trying to defend a homosexual couple. He was banned for eight matches and was fined £30,000.
Next summer he was named Player of the Match in a high-octane World Cup final, following which he got that iconic 135 not out at Headingley in the 2019 Ashes. His performance that season ranks among the best by anyone in an English summer.
But later that summer, the Sun ran a story on a tragic incident from Stokes’ past. An upset Stokes filed a lawsuit. This year, he led England in a Test match in the absence of Joe Root. He then had to fly out when his father was diagnosed with brain cancer.
He arrived midway through the IPL and struggled for five matches, especially when he was asked to open. He bowled eight wicketless overs for his 82 runs and scored 110 runs from 103 balls. He had not hit a six.
Both pundits and fans raised doubt over his place in the side, or at least about his place at the top of the order. There were speculations regarding whether he should be replaced by David Miller and Jos Buttler should open.
All odds were, thus, stacked against him when he walked out to bat against Mumbai Indians (he did not bowl). Rajasthan Royals needed to score 196 against one of the strongest bowling attacks. No side had chased a total this big against Mumbai Indians. To add to that, Mumbai were the table toppers going into the match (they still are), while Rajasthan were at the bottom.
Stokes hit his first, second, and third sixes of this edition, bringing up his hundred with the third one, off James Pattinson over mid-wicket. But his most audacious stroke came off Rahul Chahar, immediately after he hit his first six. Chahar pitched the ball outside leg, and Stokes went for a (predetermined?) reverse sweep, dragging the ball from an uncomfortable line but middling and placing it perfectly nevertheless.
More than the four runs, it was the confident audacity of the stroke that stood out. It was evident that Stokes was back to his pompous best.
He scored 107 not out off 60 balls to steer Rajasthan home. Despite the odds, Rajasthan won comfortably, by 8 wickets, with 10 balls to spare.
Stokes had to wait for his first strike of the day. He did not face a ball in the first two overs. Then he went after Trent Boult, slamming four fours in five balls. But more importantly, he had made his intentions clear. This innings was going to be about uninhibited hitting: there will be no slowing down.
Stokes and Sanju Samson took 65 runs between overs 13 and 16, almost matching the 74 Mumbai got between overs 17 and 20 when they batted. Rajasthan needed 24 in 4 overs at that point with Buttler & Co still to come. Despite the multiple collapses – by Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad – over the past week, there was only one way the match was headed for from there.
While Stokes stole the show, Samson, too, stepped up the gas. He, too, had taken some flak once he lost his way after teeing off with two spectacular innings. His previous nine innings had fetched him 113 in 102 balls. The boundaries had been drying out.
Here, after a sedate start, he got 32 in 9 balls (4 fours, 2 sixes) between overs 13 and 16, ensuring that the attack was on at both ends when the asking rate went above 11. Buttler may still move up the order, but Samson’s return to form has given Rajasthan much-needed hope.
In the end, however, Stokes’ innings was the story of the day.
Back in 1986, Ian Botham had returned to the England side after being banned for marijuana use. With the first ball he bowled on return, he had Bruce Edgar caught by Graham Gooch at slip. “Who writes your scripts?” an exasperated Gooch had remarked.
One wonders how Gooch had reacted to Stokes’ numerous comebacks.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
India captain Virat Kohli stated that "confusion and lack of clarity" has led to the team management playing a "waiting game" on Rohit Sharma's availability which is not ideal
The non-selection, despite his prolific run in domestic cricket and the IPL, extended Suryakumar's wait for an India cap.
Prior to Boult, the likes of David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Kagiso Rabada expressed their apprehensions.