Ben Stokes has long been England’s go-to guy with both bat and ball. Now he has the added challenge of resurrecting the nation as a force in Test cricket.
The charismatic 30-year-old replaces his friend Joe Root, who stepped down earlier this month after five years in charge, with a tough job on his hands.
England – world champions in the 50-over format of the game – are languishing in fifth spot in the global Test rankings after just one victory in their past 17 matches.
Despite his intense workload, Stokes was the standout candidate to be the new skipper, with England short of experienced, in-form players after a chastening year.
Stokes’s figures – he has scored 5,061 runs, including 11 hundreds, in 79 Tests at an average of nearly 36 and taken 174 wickets at 32 – are solid rather than spectacular.
But look beyond the numbers and there is a cricketer capable of match-changing spells with both bat and ball, as well as a brilliant close-catcher.
Stokes led the charge with a match-winning 135* in England’s astounding one-wicket win over Australia at Headingley in 2019, an innings that has entered cricket folklore.
Yet, by that stage he had already made a telling impact with his lively fast-medium bowling, taking three wickets to keep England – dismissed for just 67 in their first innings – in the game.
“He’s a bit of a freak to be able to produce match-winning performances like that,” said an admiring Root. “He’s the ultimate team man, will do everything for every single player.”
That stupendous innings in Leeds came just over a month after Stokes won the Man of the Match award for an unbeaten 84 in the World Cup final at Lord’s, where England triumphed against New Zealand.
Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Stokes came to live in Cumbria, northern England, when his late father Ged, a former Kiwi rugby league international, got a job coaching the Workington club.
An obvious natural talent, Ben Stokes came under the wing of northeast county Durham and was soon rising through England’s youth ranks, where he first met Root.
He made his Durham debut at 17 and his Test bow came during the second match of the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia, which England lost 5-0.
In the following game, he provided England with a rare highlight in a miserable series by hitting a defiant 120, his maiden Test century, in Perth.
Stokes scored England’s fastest Test double-century, off just 163 balls, during his 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in 2016.
A few months later he had a rare setback in his stellar career, being hit for four successive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite as the West Indies clinched the World T20 title in the last over.
Stokes returned his Test-best bowling figures of 6-22 against the same opposition in September 2017, but his career was put on pause following a fracas outside a nightclub that same month.
That led to a charge of affray and although he was eventually found not guilty in court, he missed the 2017-18 Ashes, which resulted in another chastening defeat for England, this time a 4-0 reverse.
Stokes reminded the Australians he was still a force to be reckoned with when they toured England in 2019, scoring two centuries including his astonishing Headingley innings in the drawn series.
He has become a mainstay of the England batting lineup, possessing the quality to hold down a specialist berth even without the added bonus of his bowling.
Last year the all-rounder was brought back from injury to captain the England one-day side, leading them to a 3-0 series win over Pakistan.
Then came a shock announcement that he was taking a break from the unceasing grind of the game to focus on his mental health and to rest an injured finger.
Stokes returned to action in Australia in December – but could not prevent another 4-0 drubbing.
Now, he has the unenviable task of making the England Test team competitive again.
Veteran pace bowler Stuart Broad told the BBC his long-time teammate would be an “exceptional” skipper.
“If he takes the way he plays and trains, his positive attitude, into his captaincy that’ll be a really exciting thing for English cricket,” he said.
© Agence France-Presse