India vs England: For Ben Stokes, 100th Test match is just a number

The England Test captain’s role in implementing the Bazball philosophy is for all to see

Ben Stokes (right) and Test coach Brendon McCullum, the plotters of Bazball
Ben Stokes (right) and Test coach Brendon McCullum, the plotters of Bazball

Gautam Bhattacharyya

For Ben Stokes, playing his 100th Test match in Rajkot from Thursday, 15 February, is nothing beyond just a number. The England Test captain and iconic allrounder doesn’t understand the fuss around it, though it’s a landmark in a sport which is slowly losing larger-than-life characters like him.  

‘’Every Test is just as important as the next one. Then there’s the next one, which will be 101 — it’s just one more,’’ a laconic Stokes was quoted as saying by the BBC. ‘’It’s a sign of longevity, but 99, 100 or 101 doesn’t make much difference. It’s just a number.’’

For decades, English cricket had been on the lookout for the ‘next Botham’. There were some pretenders, and others showed early promise before fizzling out, until the New Zealand-born youngster appeared in 2013 and went on to script some superhuman feats in the game — prioritising the three formats as a performer until he was tasked with the job of turning England’s Test fortunes around as captain in the company of coach Brendon McCullum in 2021.

Three years down the line, the record speaks for itself: England have won 14 of the 20 Tests played under the regime they call 'Bazball', and they look seriously capable of bucking the trend in India in the ongoing series as well.

There has been a tendency to oversimplify the definition of Bazball but there’s no doubt that Robert Key, the current director of cricket for England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), invested a lot of thought in the crew who would have a complete buy-in to their philosophy. Not only was Stokes a key performer who believed in leading by example, he also showed a capability to rally veterans like Joe Root, James Anderson or Stuart Broad until recently, showing his hitherto undiscovered man management skills.

As he becomes the 16th England cricketer to play a century of Tests, it’s time to reflect on his career in the longer format. A single nugget from his plethora of records will underline his place among some of the sport's greatest all-rounders. Only five of them have achieved the ‘triple’ of 5,000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches in Test cricket till date — an exclusive club where the other members apart from Stokes are Sir Garfield Sobers, Ian Botham, Carl Hooper and Jacques Kallis. Kapil Dev, who took 64 catches as a fielder, is the only other cricketer with 5,000 runs and 100 wickets in Tests.

Stokes, who is now on 197 Test wickets, is three away from joining Sobers and Kallis to complete a double of 6,000 runs and 200 wickets in the format. However, the bowling landmark may have to wait as he has been managing the workload on a dodgy knee and hasn’t bowled at all in 2023.

He was seen bowling at the nets in Rajkot, but made it clear that he would be playing the upcoming Test purely as a batter. ‘’We don’t have a plan for where I go with my intensity. It’s just how I feel at the time, but also not getting too far ahead. The rest of my body has to get up to speed with bowling and this was another step forward,’’ he added.

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