When a team decides that they absolutely want a certain player in the IPL auction, they set themselves on a dangerous path. Essentially, they commit to the player, no matter the literal cost. It can be a very dangerous policy, like buying a golden goose who hasn’t yet laid a single egg.
There have been a number of such dud buys in the IPL, not least this year. Remember Delhi Daredevils bidding Rs 16 crores for Yuvraj Singh in 2015? Or how this year, Eoin Morgan, picked up by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 2 crore, has been underwhelming. Tymal Mills, the second-highest paid player to go under the hammer this year at Rs 12 crore, has made the starting XI in just five of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s matches this year.
So when Ben Stokes was sold to (or rather bought by) the Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) for Rs 14 crore, it was — for the team — a risk. A huge one. First, they placed their fortunes in the hands of one player, which given the team’s experience with injuries last season, was asking for trouble. Then, they also significantly depleted their bank balance in the first round, potentially upsetting their team balance irreparably.
Fortunately, things worked out for the franchise in terms of team balance. Manoj Tiwary, a late pick in the auction, has proven invaluable in the middle order. The replacements of Mitchell Marsh and Ravichandran Ashwin, Imran Tahir and Washington Sundar, have played pivotal roles for the team with the ball. And most of all, despite missing a couple of games due to injury, Stokes has made an impact, previously with ball, and now with bat. It seems RPS have atoned for the bad karma that plagued them last year, and are now enjoying some good fortune
Stokes has been the object of much ridicule in the last year or so. It began after the WT20 final against the West Indies, where he conceded four consecutive sixes against Carlos Brathwaite. Memes and GIFs of his distraught face made the rounds, most evoking pathos, but some cruel laughter.
The memes followed him after the IPL auction. “Ben Stokes can buy his own PSL team," said one, referring to how the price paid for him was more than the salary cap of the each Pakistan Super League franchise.
Once on the field, Stokes took some time to settle down. He had just one wicket in his first four games, and just one half century in seven innings before Monday night. Then he missed two games due to a muscle tear in his right shoulder, sparking fears that England might recall and bubble wrap him to ensure that he recovered well in time for the Champions Trophy.
Fortunately, Stokes recovered in a weeks time, evident by the 140 kmph deliveries he sent down at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. His performances with the ball had already won him two Man of the Match awards. Now it was the turn of his bat to work for a living.
RPS came into the match against the Gujarat Lions on a bit of a roll. They had won four of their last five games. “Important to win this game because after this we have a couple of away games after this," said captain Steve Smith at the toss. And they had Stokes back.
The team’s success so far had been built on the good opening partnerships. Those starts were then being built upon by Smith’s runs. By the end of the first over against Gujarat Lions, both those contributors had been taken out of the equation. RPS would have to build their innings with different materials.
If Mr RPS Consistent was a film, Rahul Tripathi and Manoj Tiwary would have played a double role in it, so bankable had they been for Pune. But before the powerplay was done, both had been dismissed. This was the setting when Stokes walked in at five. 10 for three, and later 42 for four when MS Dhoni joined him.
A 76-run partnership between the pair followed, with Dhoni looking to set a base to launch like he did against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. But his words after that match, where he said wins like that can’t happen every time, proved prophetic. After 26 runs from 33 balls, he was dismissed, with Pune still needing 44 runs in about four overs.
Stokes had hardly been slacking till then. He was on 72 off 49 balls, shirt soaked with perspiration, and cramps were beginning to creep into his calves. But his arms kept swinging, and every time he got some room he swung it over the leg side or smashed it through cover. On a ground that Smith described as “one of the easier grounds in India to hit sixes," he hit six of them, four to the regions of mid-wicket and long on. In all, he scored 45 runs through those two positions.
But the shot that brought up his hundred was perhaps the most memorable. Not because of the personal milestone, but because it was the kind of cover drive that evokes cries of “shot hai bahi” from onlookers. And also because it virtually won the match for RPS, leaving them needing just four runs off five balls. In the short history of the franchise, Stokes played an innings that the history of IPL will remember.
After the game, he shared how sitting out of the last two games had been a good thing for him. ” I think it did me some good having a rest”, he explained. “Felt my training was slipping away a little bit, and it was good to get into the nets, and I took that into my innings as well.”
Smith was well pleased after the game, and could not help having another crack at Stokes’ auction price, with a cheeky grin on his face. “He’s a quality player; that’s why we picked him at such a big price and he really earned his cash tonight," he said.
One thing is certain. After this game, there will be no jokes, no memes, no sly comments about Rs 14 crore. Nobody will be talking about Kolkata 2016 or the auction of 2017. Stokes has earned his peace, and his bread.
Snehal Pradhan in a former India cricketer. She now works as a freelance sports writer and is the host of Cricket How To on YouTube. She tweets @SnehalPradhan
Updated Date: May 02, 2017 12:08 PM