England all-rounder has been unable to repeat level of performance for Rising Pune Supergiant last season
IPL 2018: Ben Stokes goes from MVP to Royal disappointment for Rajasthan
Four months after splashing out US$1.97 million (Dh7.23m) to secure the services of Ben Stokes, Rajasthan Royals cannot be faulted for regretting the splurge as they struggle to stay afloat in this year's Indian Premier League (IPL).
Stokes, then with Rising Pune Supergiant, set alight last year's tournament with his scintillating batting, crafty bowling and electric fielding, making him the obvious choice for the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) honour.
England and world cricket's premier all-rounder's Midas touch has deserted him since joining Rajasthan, however, with the 26-year-old player still looking for his first fifty in this year's tournament, while the wickets have also dried up.
But it may still not to be too late for Stokes, according to England teammate Chris Woakes.
"He is a world-class player," said Woakes, who is among a dozen English players in this year's IPL. "Probably has not played as well as he would have liked throughout the tournament but I never write him off.
"Still four games left and more if they qualify. He's a fantastic player. If you slip off your game against him, he will punish you," the Royal Challengers Bangalore player added.
Our take: Stokes worth price tag?
Two years in a row Ben Stokes has been the IPL’s most expensive player. In 2017 he went to the now-defunct Rising Pune Supergiant for $2.17 million. This year he was picked for roughly the same amount by the more imaginatively-named Rajasthan Royals – the league’s inaugural champions in 2008.
In 2018 Stokes has scored a paltry 147 runs across seven innings at a strike-rate of 123.52 - below-par figures by his standards. And the less said about his bowling the better. But all that would be overlooked if Stokes could live up to his billing as a game changer, the rationale behind Rajasthan’s investment.
Indeed, there was an expectation the England all-rounder would snap back into the form of yore after he was cleared to play for his national side following a charge of affray outside a nightclub in England. But his inability to inspire a win or two has been down to lack of game time over the past few months, as a result of his suspension. Perhaps, it could also be due to the toll the ongoing court case may be having on his mind.
This is not to write Stokes off. He may yet rediscover his mojo and Rajasthan could still reach the play-offs. But at this stage of the season, the franchise will be rightly worried they are not getting worthwhile returns on a very large investment.
- Chitrabhanu Kadalayil, Assistant Sports Editor
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Stokes did suffer a setback off the pitch when he was charged with affray following an incident in Bristol last September, costing him a place on England's Ashes tour of Australia.
The player has pleaded not guilty and will face trial in August.
Hoping to help Stokes rediscover his best form, Rajasthan tried the middle-order batsman as an opener in Friday's match against Chennai Super Kings but the all-rounder made just 11 before losing his middle stump to Harbhajan Singh.
However, Rajasthan and England teammate Jos Buttler said the switch in order was primarily due to a hamstring issue.
"[Rajasthan mentor] Shane Warne sort of said 'why don't you go at the top and play with some freedom and try and see if that comes off' because he felt like he was going to find it hard in the middle with his running," explained Buttler.
Bought at a relatively modest $680,000, Buttler has provided better value for money for Rajasthan, the wicketkeeper-batsman hitting his fourth consecutive half-century on Friday to keep the side alive in the playoff race.
Opening the innings with Stokes, Buttler went on to smash an unbeaten 95 to anchor Rajasthan's chase in Jaipur against IPL heavyweights Chennai.
Asked if it was his best Twenty20 knock, the 27-year-old player said, "Definitely, especially in the IPL. I have hit my straps and it's always special when you're not out."
Rajasthan, sixth in the eight-team league, visit Mumbai Indians on Sunday.