Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

Ben Stokes might not be the best ever all-rounder yet, but he is the greatest match-winner cricket has seen

England player has pulled off remarkable wins on his own with the bat and ball

Where should we rank Ben Stokes in the list of best all-rounders of all time? Among the top 10 or top five? Or how about the very top?

These ‘best ever’ debates are always a dangerous endeavour as it’s a matter of perception and there will never be any consensus. But after Stokes almost single-handedly pulled England to victory in the Newlands Test against South Africa when a result seemed beyond them, that debate has started again.

If you just look at numbers, Stokes is nowhere near the top all-rounders of all time. He has less than 4,000 runs in Tests, just over 2,600 in ODIs and has not even taken 250 wickets in international cricket.

Compare that to Jacques Kallis (more than 25,000 runs and 550 wickets in international cricket), Sir Garfield Sobers (over 8,000 runs and 200 wickets in Tests), Sir Ian Botham (more than 7000 runs and 500 wickets in Tests and ODIs) or even Shakib Al Hasan (over 11,000 runs and 550 wickets in all three formats), Stokes’ numbers look modest.

But what Stokes has managed to accomplish within 12 months is nothing short of remarkable.

If you look at the stats for all-rounders with at least 5,000 runs and 200 wickets in international cricket, Stokes is 24th on the list. Yes, he is that far behind. But those stats are only half the story.

Among those runs and wickets, Stokes has single-handedly won England the 2019 World Cup, the Headingley Ashes Test and the recently-concluded Cape Town thriller against South Africa. All of that within a span of one year.

And this from a fellow who was almost incarcerated and nearly lost his career after getting into a brawl outside a bar in 2017, one year after he was hit for four sixes in the last over of the World T20 final against the West Indies in Kolkata with the match almost in England’s bag.

It takes immense strength of character to come back from those two harrowing experiences and win pretty much everything on your own under extreme pressure.

And that is something very few players can claim to have done. Many have done extraordinary things on the field but Stokes deals almost exclusively in historic achievements.

The World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s is arguably the greatest cricket game ever. Many fans couldn’t gather the courage to watch the tension unfold. Imagine being right in the middle of it, scoring an unbeaten 84 and then playing a leading role in the super over win.

Then one month later, when all seemed lost chasing 359 in the Ashes Test at Headingley, Stokes cracked an audacious 135 not out to eke out a one-wicket win that was one of the greatest individual efforts on a cricket field.

He was at it again at the start of this year, first smashing 72 of just 47 balls on the fourth day of the Newlands Test to give the visitors enough time to pressure on South Africa. And they needed all the time as James Anderson got injured, which meant Stokes had to do the bulk of the enforcement on the final day, which he did with sustained aggression.

He bowled more than 23 overs, gave away just 35 runs and took the last three wickets in the final session with time running out to show once again that when the pressure is truly on, Stokes is the man. And just to drive home the point, he took a record five catches in the first innings at second slip.

So the numbers might say that there are many players who have scored more runs while taking more wickets than Stokes. But you will struggle to come across a greater impact player in cricket.

Maybe Australia's Adam Gilchrist is just ahead in that area as he has won multiple World Cups and Test series. But he played with the galacticos of Australia in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while Stokes has been pretty much on his own.

Be it with the bat, with the ball, in the field, in a chase, any pressure situation you can possibly think of ... Stokes has delivered. He might not be the best all-rounder of all time yet, but he might well be the greatest match-winner cricket has seen.

Updated: January 10, 2020 11:24 AM

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