Ben Stokes isn’t just the best all-rounder in world cricket, he is also one of the finest white-ball batsmen at the moment. His heroic knock in the World Cup final last year is proof of that. And against the formidable Mumbai Indians on Sunday, he helped Rajasthan Royals keep their Indian Premier League 2020 season alive with another clutch performance.
The England all-rounder blasted an unbeaten 60-ball 107 to power the Royals’ impressive eight-wicket win over the defending champions.
It’s been a tough few months for the 29-year-old. Soon after showcasing his immense capabilities as both batsmen and bowler during the Test series against West Indies in July, Stokes headed to New Zealand to be with his ailing father. The time away from the game meant he had to start from scratch once he landed in the United Arab Emirates for IPL 2020.
The rustiness was there for all to see in the first five games he played this season. He got starts – 41 against Delhi Capitals, 19 against Chennai Super Kings and 30 against Sunrisers Hyderabad – but the batsman who was toying with the Windies attack a few months earlier was nowhere to be seen.
It wasn’t for a lack of intent that Stokes was failing to convert his scores into more meaningful contributions. He was coming down the track, making room for himself, attempting reverse-sweeps, going inside-out, showing aggression, but things just weren’t falling into place for him. The timing was completely off. He was trying to hit the ball hard but seldom finding the middle of the bat.
However, things finally took a turn for the better a day before Rajasthan’s clash with Mumbai. Stokes revealed on Sunday that he had had a satisfying training session which gave him great confidence heading into the all-important match. And the result of it was one of the most impressive knocks by any batsmen this season.
Despite losing Robin Uthappa and Steve Smith early while chasing a mammoth 196 in Abu Dhabi, Stokes never lost his rhythm. His mind was free of clutter, with the pitch being helpful too as the ball came on nicely, and he found the timing that had eluded him in the earlier games.
In the third over of Rajasthan’s innings, Stokes hit Trent Boult for four boundaries. First through mid-wicket, then two straight back, and the last one past extra-cover. He got to 16 off 6 at the end of that over and never looked back. He still went hard at the ball but unlike earlier games, he didn’t lose his shape. There was a lot more commitment and certainty in his strokes, and the MI bowlers never really looked like they could dismiss him.
What helped Stokes immensely was a free-flowing knock by Sanju Samson at the other end. The two complimented each other wonderfully to not allow Mumbai Indians back into the contest. When Samson needed some time initially to settle in, it was Stokes who played the role of the aggressor. And when Stokes seemed to have lost his touch briefly after getting to his half-century, it was Samson who attacked and kept the required-rate in check.
The thing that will please Rajasthan Royals the most is the fact that Stokes and Samson stayed at the crease till the end to close out the game. Against defending champions Mumbai Indians, who know a thing or two about turning things around, Stokes showed his big-match temperament to get the job done. And it was his presence that perhaps helped Samson to not throw his wicket away either. The 25-year-old has wasted a number of starts this season but on Sunday, he showed maturity to remain not-out on 54 off 31.
“It’s always nice to get back to form,” said Stokes after picking up the player of the match award for his unbeaten 107 off 60.
“We needed a result from today, so it’s a good victory. Nice to spend some time out in the middle and finish the game off. We got ourselves into a great position by putting the pressure back on to every bowler who came on. It’s a bit difficult at the moment, things are a bit tough back at home. Hopefully, this will give them some happiness.”
Stokes also said that he had a bittersweet feeling at the end of the day. He was happy with his performance but wished it had come a few games earlier, when the Royals weren’t relying on other results in order to reach the playoffs. The men in pink have at least two more games to play this season. While they indeed need luck to be on their side for a playoffs berth, an in-form Stokes in a big plus too.