For a side to be successful in any form of cricket, there needs to be an able replacement for a well established player. There have been several sides who have not remained the same after having no appropriate replacement for its key players. A classic instance in Australia is that of Shane Warne. Ever since the wizard spinner retired, the Australians have struggled in the spin bowling department. Till recent times, the English side too was miserably struggling as the selectors failed to find a suitable replacement for the flamboyant Andrew Flintoff.
Things were looking bleak for England until a dynamic individual rose to the occasion and grabbed the eyeballs. The individual is none other than the mighty talented Ben Stokes. Stokes, in the first 18 months of his international career, has already shown us what he is capable of. With the willow in his hand, Stokes is a destructive force. There are no second thoughts about his batting abilities. In his debut series, the Ashes of 2013/14, Stokes was the only positive factor for England. The southpaw made a fine ton, which turned out to be the sole ton for England in the entire series.
Apart from his batting, Stokes is a handy bowler as well. He will not bounce the batsmen apart, nor will he swing it viciously, but he will guarantee the side with accuracy. Like Flintoff, accuracy and discipline in the bowling are Stokes’ premier assets. Stokes is an ideal fourth bowler for England and supports Anderson and Broad perfectly. The 23 year old can generate reverse swing as well with the old Duke ball.
More than anything else, it is his positive approach in the game which reminds viewers of Andrew Flintoff the most. Freddie Flintoff was one guy who loved getting into the faces of the batsmen with his witty words. Flintoff as an individual was aggressive but he never breached the barrier of aggression. Stokes too is extremely aggressive and he loves testing the nerves of the opposition. Once he beats the batsman with his outswinger, one can visualize Stokes going up to the batsman and taunting him in his own style. Such aggression is vital for the side as it keeps the team in the game throughout. When the chips are down and England is short of motivation, it can be the antics of Stokes, which can light things up.
Stokes though, had to endure a patch of severe difficulties in mid 2014. Firstly, in the Caribbean, Stokes punched a locker in frustration, which only made a mess of the things. While venting out his frustration on the locker, Stokes fractured his hand and was thus ruled out of the 2014 T20 World Cup. The all rounder was heavily criticized for this. Then against India in the first two tests, Stokes had three scores of 0. Imagine the situation of a batsman whose first three scores do not yield even a run while playing at home. Stokes was then dumped out of the side, and was replaced by Chris Woakes.
Stokes though was resilient and never gave up on his ambition. The 23 year old dynamite gave his absolute best while playing for Durham. He was then recalled against the West Indies and since then, he has never looked back. More than anything else, it was his performance in the first test against New Zealand which reminded viewers of Andrew Flintoff. A counterattacking knock of 94 in the first innings followed by a 102 in the second innings ensured that Stokes had sealed the all rounder’s slot. While piling up the runs, Stokes was thoroughly dominant and played proper cricketing shots. With the bat, he surely has the ability to excel further against quality bowlers.
It’s not just his teammates who lavish praises on him, but even respected names. Paul Collingwood for instance, has been a tremendous fan of Stokes ever since they shared the same dressing room for Durham. Collingwood has time and again been witnessed praising Stokes for his all round abilities. In the recent series against West Indies, Phil Simmons, the head coach of West Indies too was in awe of Stokes. Simmons said that Stokes could probably be like Jacques Kallis in the future. Simmons also said that he would love to have a player like Stokes in his ranks.
Andrew Flintoff is most loved for his performance in the epic 2005 Ashes. Flintoff back then created history against the visiting Australians. With the Ashes up for grabs in a couple of months, the onus will be on Stokes to recreate the aura of Andrew Flintoff.