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Ben Stokes is turning things around

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Ben_Stokes_England_IPL_CricketMumbai Indians probably lost the Maha-Derby to Pune in the bidding room. It was a fine morning on the 20th of February in Bengaluru as the management and thinktanks of each of the IPL teams took seats in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the garden city.

In the auction that would see over 750 names go under the hammer, one name was doing the rounds, as he had done considerably well for England against India across formats. With teams eager to strengthen their line-ups, Ben Stokes was expected to spur a bidding war.

In the first hour itself, auctioneer Richard Madley said what the entire room was waiting for: “Next all-rounder up for grabs is Englishman Ben Stokes.” Even as the name was being said, a few bids went up. Mumbai, Pune and Delhi stayed late in the battle before Hyderabad jumped in. Delhi pulled out first, and in the end Pune had ensured Ben Stokes would be a Supergiant for the season.

He can bat, he can bowl, he is an exceptional fielder and he gives more than 100% in each game. The Pune owners were all smiles having bought Stokes. Stephen Fleming, though, seemed far from convinced as he saw his fellow Kiwi all-rounder Corey Anderson, no mug, sold for as little as 1 crore.

 

Ben Stokes created history and became IPL’s most expensive foreign recruit ever. But big price tags bring big responsibility and pressure with them. Even before the IPL had started, Stokes was feeling the heat. All the post-auction shows talked about him and how the money paid for him was exorbitant. Stokes was termed to be a panic buy and his price exorbitant, as his T20 economy rate was over 9 and he was believed to be adding little value with the ball in hand.

He now had to prove a point and justify his worth. Each and every one of his actions and performances were being minutely observed and critically analysed.

On his IPL debut, Stokes gave away runs at 9 an over while he picked up a solitary wicket. With the bat, he didn’t have much to do but managed to get a start, scoring 21 off 14 balls at a strike rate of 150. He got started properly with a crucial half century in his 2nd game and a more economical bowling display. Unfortunately, his team still ended on the losing side.

Sustaining good performances is key. This was where question marks came along again for the Englishman as he was hit to all corners of the park by the Delhi Daredevils in his third game. His spell cost 41, including Chris Morris’ last over carnage. Stokes followed it up by making 2 with the bat and an all-round miserable performance. High Price Tags bring with them instant criticism and the doubts were back. Another bad performance followed where Stokes managed just 25 with the bat and went wicketless in a thumping win for Gujarat Lions.

 

It was time for Stokes to go back to the drawing board and hit the basics. He needed to forget about all the talk about price tags lingering around him. Easier said than done, but this was crucial for Stokes to make a statement and prove a point.

Stokes now had experience of the IPL and its inner dynamics. The talented all-rounder put in extra hours in the nets and tried to add some fine touches to his already diversified skill-set, fine tuning them to suit the conditions and the game. What followed was something the world and Rising Pune Supergiants were waiting for.

Ben Stokes produced a master class against the celebrated Royal Challengers Bangalore, picking up 3 key wickets and helping Pune experience a resurgence in the league. Following an off day against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he was back up and fighting against the league leaders, Mumbai Indians.

Mumbai were cruising along before Stokes took the ball in his hand. It all began with bamboozling fellow Englishman Jos Buttler with a slower ball, before sending pinch hitter Karn Sharma back to the pavilion. While these 2 overs were great, the next 2 were even better. Stokes did not pick up a wicket, but stifled a well set Rohit Sharma, who was looking set to take the game home, and prevented him from going big. The pressure added by the Englishman paid off and Sharma threw away his wicket going for a big shot and Pune won the match.

Slowly but surely, and with a ball in hand, Stokes is proving a point and making a statement. He is showing why Rising Pune Supergiant spent big on him a couple of months back. He has not just won Pune games, but added impetus and momentum just at the right time in the tournament. In addition to this, he has also infused belief in the side.

Stokes, who was thought to be more of a batsman, has turned around 2 games all on his own with a ball in hand. If he adds more with the bat, he will certainly justify the big bucks spent on him. The asset that Pune invested in, back on 20th February, is finally starting to move upwards and yield returns.

 

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