Updated: Feb 19
Ben Stokes is one of the best cricketers in the world. His stats are average, but his game-winning ability, and drive on the field make him one of the best performers-in terms of results, and watchability. And yet, does this giant of modern cricket have a weakness? The argument, one enhanced by his poor start to the IPL, is that Stokes is not a good t20 player. He struggles to start quickly, tries to hit the ball too hard, and lacks the spark with the ball that he offers in longer forms. Were he not Ben Stokes, he would not start. I believe this argument wrong, and that Stokes is a good t20 player. Let me tell you why:
Stokes the batsmen- Ben Stokes' primary role in t20 cricket is to score runs. Despite being an all-rounder, he bats in the top six, and is often the sixth, not fifth bowler.
In his just 26 IT20s (this is less than Joe Root), Stokes has batted on all but three occasions. Yet to pass 50, he averages just 17.94. This, I will be the first to say, is bad. While t20 cricket does not require an average in the 40s, it does need to get above the low 20s. The positive point though, is Stokes' strike rate of 134.36. Given his average is so poor (meaning he's not batting for a long time and then catching up, ala Dawid Malan's IT20 style), having a respectable strike right is a positive, as it will likely improve as his average goes up, Indeed, his SR is higher than that of Babar Azam in IT20s, who is considered one of the best in the world.
So why does Stokes have such a poor record at IT20 level. His general t20 stats are good, with an average of 24.64 and an IPL century to his name (having come in at 10-3, to chase down 161, with no other bat passing 30!). That was the IPL, in 2017, where he was also named MVP, and made both the Cricinfo and Cricbuzz XIs. He can, quite clearly, bat well in t20 cricket.
And yet, it isn't it working in IT20s for Stokes. The reason, in my view, is simple-he hasn't played enough, generally, and at his peak. Cricket derives lots from stats. And, statisticians will always say, the bigger the sample size, the closer the result to the actual population. Meaning, the more data there is, the more representative the results are to reality. Batting 23 times in IT20s isn't really enough. I'm not saying Stokes' hasn't had enough opportunity, and I'm fully aware that guys like Liam Livingstone should have more, but I don't think we've seen enough of Stokes in IT20s to judge him.
The other point is that he hasn't played enough IT20s at his best.
Since the start of the 2017 English summer, Stokes has played just five IT20s, with three being in the recent series in South Africa (where he did well!!). The eight IT20s he's batted in since January 1st 2017 have seen him average a useful 26.5 with a SR of 124.8. While I know these numbers don't set the world alight, they are also a lot better than one might presume given the questions over his place in the side, and, given most players' stats improve over time, the trend is, as we'd expect, heading in the right direction.
Indeed, in Stokes' last IT20 series in South Africa, he failed in the first game, making 4(7), but the second saw him hit 47*(30), which proved a useful platform from 90-3, 125-5 and 176-6 to a defendable 204, with a boost from Mo Ali. In the final match, Stokes cameoed with 22(12) in a partnership of 61 in 27 balls with Eoin Morgan, as England went from needing a difficult 78 off 38 to a calm 17 off 11.
So while Stokes doesn't have the best stats, his batting is still decent. His recent record is good, and, when in form, he gets it spot on.
Stokes the bowler- If I ask you to remember Ben Stokes bowling in an IT20, I know what you hear: "CARLOS BRATHWAITE! CARLOS BRATHWAITE! REMEMBER THE NAME!"
Stokes only managed to deliver four balls of that fateful over, but had the other two been bowled, I'm sure he would have been hit for another two sixes. Dazed and weirdly panicked, a lost-looking Stokes bowling half-volleys is still painful, powerful viewing-for no one more than Stokes himself. It is quite haunting, as David Lloyd, in bemused awe at cricket, simply says "and that's his eighteen gone!", with the picture of Stokes, completely at a loss for emotion; totally shell-shocked.
What is forgotten, is that in the semi-final against New Zealand, Stokes bowled the 18th and 20th overs, taking 3-8 from those two death overs!
His overall record in IT20s is pretty decent. He's bowled in 21 of the 26 games, and has taken a useful 14 wickets. Given most bowlers don't tend to take wickets at a greater than 1:1 game-to-wicket ratio in t20, this is a useful performance from an all-rounder. And given that lots of Stokes' overs have been at the death (one of his main roles in the 2016 WC), an economy rate of 8.82 is handy. An average of 40.78 is poor, but this has been a more respectable 34.16 in IT20s from 2017 onwards.
In the South Africa series of last winter, he took key wickets: Rassie van der Dussen (twice), Quinton de Kock and David Miller. These four wickets came with an average of 18.75, with an economy of 8.33, especially impressive given two of the three games saw both sides make 200+, with the other still seeing South Africa reach over 170, scoring quicker than Stokes' average economy. This impressive performance with ball in South Africa, combined with his useful batting, as mentioned earlier, perhaps show Stokes is a good IT20 player.
While the bowling stats hardly set the world alight, they are very useful for a sixth bowler. Stokes can (this being the optimal word) get it right at the death, and also offers a handy option in the middle overs. He wouldn't get picked in the side for his bowling, but that is why he is an all-rounder!!
IPL 2020- Perhaps one the reasons that doubts are being cast over Stokes as a t20 player come as of his poor start to the IPL for the Rajasthan Royals. He's played just five games, and has surprisingly opened the batting in all. The Royals have won two and lost three since his arrival, with Stokes' contributions as follows:
Bowled for 5(6) in first game back having bowled one over for 7; Royals middle order helps them to win chasing against SRH. Gets hit for 24 in 2 overs before falling for 41(35) when rate was in control, starting a collapse that lead to defeat v DC. Struggles for 15(19) and doesn't bowl, as the Royals get AB'd! Goes for 27 in 3 overs, was looking good on 19(11) before slowness of pitch lead to a chop-on; Buttler dominates the chase though, as CSK defeated. Nurdles 30(32) with no timing (and arguably causing another wicket due to slow scoring), then goes for 24 in 2 overs; as SRH undo Archer's good work.
The record is very poor so far, with one innings where he should have seen them home and many others where timing just hasn't been there. However, three wins from their last three would put the Royals onto 14 points, which would likely be enough to see them through. Should Stokes perform, that becomes a lot more likely.
It is my strong view that Ben Stokes should play IT20s for England; for he is that good. The series in South Africa saw him perform well, and his overall talent, and upward trend, should make him a key player for England. While it is fair to question him, I believe the reasons I've outlined behind his poor stats show a player that should make the England side. Let me know what you think!
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Ben Stokes' t20 summary-