Ben Stokes’s volcanism is a pyroclastic flow that threatens all before it
Each era has a class of all-rounders‚ while some eras had a clump of all-rounders playing together.
The 1980s had a bunch of quality competitors like Imran Khan‚ Sir Ian Botham and Sir Richard Hadlee.
The 1990s had a slight dip in class‚ but South Africa had Brian McMillan‚ Shaun Pollock‚ Lance Klusener and a fledgling Jacques Kallis‚ who truly spread his wings as a latter-day Sir Garfield Sobers in the following decade.
He was joined momentarily by the Ashes superstar Andrew Flintoff‚ who flickered very brightly when his big but rickety body allowed him.
Then there was the 2010s where no all-rounder barring Bangladesh’s Shakib-al-Hasan really came to the fore.
Then there’s Benjamin Andrew Stokes; the flaming red-haired wonder who can only be described as a force of nature.
Indeed‚ a question was asked at the post-match press conference‚ joyfully enquiring whether he is indeed a force of nature that sucks its energy from the core of the earth to waste anything that resembles opposition on a cricket field?
With that hair‚ the mechanically simple yet physically taxing bowling action and the robotic‚ yet calculated batting‚ Stokes becomes the pyroclastic magma that engulfs all before it.
We’ve seen in nature how pyroclastic flows have erased entire towns from the face of the earth.
Stokes may not be as life-threatening‚ but he’s as close to an unstoppable‚ gravity-aided movement of earth material that has no regard for what’s in front of it.
In a latter-day cricket world where averages aren’t contextualised‚ there’s the willingness to forget an individual’s ability to alter the course of a fixture.
Stokes has a ledger of match-shaping knocks‚ bowling figures and fielding efforts scattered like sheep in the Karoo.
It’s when they come together seamlessly like they did at Newlands in the recently concluded Test where his value transcends what one would call his ordinary number.
In the Steve Smith/Kane Williamson/Virat Kohli batting age‚ an average of between 35-45 is seen to be “normal” without shooting the lights out.
Take that back to the 1980s‚ 1990s and through to the early 2000s where bowlers held sway‚ where you were a world-class operators with such an average.
It’s true that numbers don’t lie‚ but they also don’t tell you the full story of some player’s abilities.
Just like the search for a “new Botham” had England in an bits-and-pieces tizzy until Flintoff came along‚ countries get caught up in an all-rounder frenzy until they actually have a good team.
The truly great teams of the modern era; West Indies and Australia‚ coped pretty well without an all-rounder.
Some countries like South Africa‚ Pakistan and India‚ are married to the idea of the blockbuster complementing their specialists.
For those who think Andile Phehlukwayo‚ Chris Morris and Dwaine Pretorius are bang average when juxtaposed with Stokes‚ sit back and think for one moment: how did other countries cope when South Africa could pick Kallis with Klusener and Andrew Hall to an extent occupying the other slot?
Well‚ Australia used to cream South Africa‚ but when Flintoff asked questions of them in 2005‚ they couldn’t respond. It was through Stokes’s sheer willpower that England were able to hold Australia to a 2-all draw in the Ashes and prevail over New Zealand in the World Cup final.
Stokes inflicted pain on South Africa before‚ during and after the World Cup.
He’s a red-haired tormentor of this country’s cricket‚ but with the conveyor belt that’s produced quality cricketers‚ let’s sit back and acknowledge the Stokes-class of all-rounder.