Ben Stokes: The redemption of the prodigal son

Ben Stokes: The redemption of the prodigal son

England's Ben Stokes celebrates victory on day four of the third Ashes cricket Test match against Australia at Headingley, Leeds, England, Sunday Aug. 25, 2019. (AP/PTI)

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
– Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

A section of Eden Gardens erupted in frenzied joy as the batsman carted Ben Stokes for four consecutive sixes in the last over of the West Indies chase and the World T20 title of 2016 embraced the easy charm and swagger of the calypso. As the words of Ian Bishop - "Carlos Braithwaite! Remember the name!" - decorated the moment of West Indian glory, Stokes sat on his haunches. His face was pale, his eyes flickered with gloomy dejection, the emotion of failing on the largest stage. The chalice of immortality evaded his grasp. It was only for the time being.

A night in September 2017 outside a pub in Bristol. England's star cricketer Ben Stokes was involved in a brawl with an unknown, a scandal that the media latched on to in breaking news headlines and gossip columns. What happened later was probably the darkest chapter in Stokes's playing career. His image was battered, his dignity was pounded by jeers and rebukes and his confidence dwindled to the nadir. He fought for the next 15 months, missed the 2017-18 Ashes series that England lost 0-4. At the end of the battle, he cut the figure of a forlorn warrior in the middle of a desolate battlefield. Shunned by society, vilified by the guardians of morality. 

With his back against the wall and facing the world, the undaunted Stokes still hoped liked Andy Dufresne. He hoped for redemption, he hoped to regain his lost kingdom. The kingdom that promised him greatness. The kingdom, where salvation beckoned. 

Some trivia

Before this match, in the history of Test cricket, a target of 300+ plus was set 666 times. It was chased successfully only 30 times. 

The unbeaten 76* runs partnership between Ben Stokes and Jack Leach is the second-highest last wicket partnership in a successful chase in Test cricket. The record 78-run partnership belongs to Kusal Perera and Vishwa Fernando against South Africa, at Durban in February 2019. 

His journey truly began with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. England the host, were the favourites to win the title for the first time in their ODI history. They had dismantled every opponent before the start of the tournament and the juggernaut was only expected to continue. The dreamers had a reason to hope, for England boasted an ODI arsenal capable of laying waste to any opponent. The likes of Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Jofra Archer, Eoin Morgan and Chris Woakes could unleash carnage hitherto unseen. And in the middle of the devastating ammunition lurked Ben Stokes. Like an animal stalking its prey, ready to pounce at the right opportunity. 

He was hungry for success, eager to stamp his authority on ODI cricket's oldest tournament. He did that with aplomb, with the kind of domination that distinguishes champions from the rest. In the 11 matches he played at the World Cup, he amassed 465 runs at an average of 66.42 and took 7 wickets, an all-round performance worthy of the highest accolades. His match-winning innings of 84 not out in the tournament final allowed England to tie New Zealand's score of 241, and then he helped the home team prevail in the 'super over' in which both teams scored 15 runs. England tasted their first ODI World Cup success and Stokes was their knight in shining armour. But the journey was not over. The story of the comeback awaited one decisive twist. 

Third Ashes Test 2019, Australia leading 1-0 

England down and out, almost. Like a shark sensing blood in the water, Australia went in for the kill. They were without the talismanic Steve Smith, who missed the match due to a concussion (that was caused by Jofra Archer's fiery short ball in the second Test). England had their own problems. The fragile batting line-up has collapsed often in recent times, with Ireland bunding them out for 85 in the first innings of a one-off test in July. This weakness came to the fore against Australia as England managed just 67 runs in reply to their opponent's 179 in the first innings. They trailed by 112 runs. Australia in their second innings piled on 246, and set England a target of 359 to win the Test, and more importantly, prevent Australia from retaining 'the Urn'.

Pieces fly off of the helmet of England's Ben Stokes after the ball hit him in the head on the fourth day of the third Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at Headingley in Leeds, northern England, on August 25, 2019. (Photo by Anthony Devlin / AFP) Caption

Despite the determined knocks from captain Joe Root (77) and Joe Denly (50), England slumped to 286 for 9 at one stage. Stokes was out in the middle, with the number 11 Jack Leach for company. The team needed 73 runs to win. It was an uphill, near-impossible task in the face of the hostile fast bowling of Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, aided by the guile of experienced off-spinner Nathan Lyon. As the saying goes, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." Stokes began to script a miraculous chase and guided his team to a magical victory. He hammered the spinners and pacers alike and cleverly shielded Leach from Australia's bowling. He religiously took a single in almost every last ball of each over. As the summit came nearer, Australia groaned in despair, and the crowd hailed Stokes. They even started to chant, "take off your shoes if you love Stokes", showing their love for the cricketer in a humorous way.

As he dispatched the length ball off Cummins through the covers for four runs, the cricketing world rose to applaud one of the greatest knocks in the history of the game. Stokes let out a loud roar. It was not only a roar of jubilation, but it was also an answer to the critics who wrote him off. With the unbeaten 135, the prodigal son completed his journey to redemption, as he exorcised the ghosts of the past with the heroics of the present. In the annals of England and world cricket history, Sir Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff now have company: The man who scripted the great escape at Leeds.

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