Did you see… Ben Stokes ceasing to be a specialist batter?

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It is halfway through day two. The score is 275-1. The last 28 wickets in the series have all fallen to spin. Ben Stokes hasn’t bowled in a match since June. Rohit Sharma faces on 103, thinking about 203 – maybe even 303. Stokes knocks his off stump back first ball.

Honestly, what a preposterous cricketer. It’s not that Stokes came on and took a wicket with his first ball. It’s that taking a wicket then and there was so profoundly unlikely, no matter who was bowling.

The reactions:

  • Zak Crawley grinned and put his hand over his mouth in disbelief (why is putting your hand over your mouth a default response to disbelief?)
  • Brendon McCullum grinned and put his hand over his mouth in disbelief and shook his head
  • Paul Collingwood did a small giggle of disbelief
  • Ben Foakes and Shoaib Bashir laughed in disbelief
  • Mark Wood put his hands on his head and grinned in disbelief

You can detect the theme here.

> Ben Stokes: Lord Megachief of Gold 2022

Only it’s not exactly disbelief, is it? It’s disbelief paradoxically laced with complete lack-of-surprise.

“Of course this has happened. It’s Ben Stokes. Why didn’t I assume this was going to happen?”

Only it’s not that either, because breaking a 171-run partnership with your first ball in nine months is still not a thing that should happen – even when you’re Ben Stokes.

But of course it happened. But it shouldn’t have happened. Yet it did.

Why did it happen? Because it was Ben Stokes.

Why does that matter? How can that matter? It’s not like he’s that remarkable a bowler.

Ah, but he *is* a remarkable cricketer. He’s Ben Stokes!


And yet also it completely does.

Those are the emotions you see on the faces of Stokes’ colleagues. They’re men strapped into a merry-go-round of confusion, unable to alight on solid ground.

For his part, Stokes responded by scratching his ear and doing a half-shake of the head.

Maybe the eye of the storm is the only vantage point from which it all makes sense.

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  1. Is all this narrative better than winning?
    Of course, that is to suggest this was ever the trade off. “Losing + narrative > Losing” is more accurate, I suppose.
    It IS a shame winning wasn’t an option, however. Or, and bear with me here, “winning + narrative”?

    1. England losing the series 4-1 away in India given the squads involved is far from a shock. I thought England competed well in three of the tests. Losing two of the five tests so very badly is disappointing.

      In other news: 700 cheers for James Michael Anderson OBE.

      1. That was entirely down to the pitch and the genius of Joe Root. It was absolutely a win the toss, bat first pitch and once Root had finished compiling his double hundred, there was only one way the test could go

      2. That still doesn’t really answer how *that* team managed it. Remember this was a match at least partly shaped by Doms Bess and Sibley.

  2. According to BBC Science Focus magazine, “The gasp which causes our mouths to open when we are shocked is a fast, deep in-breath that evolved to provide a quick burst of extra oxygen to help deal with startling events. This makes the mouth vulnerable, so covering it may be a protective gesture.”

    They are very dismissive of the idea that it is “to prevent our souls leaving our bodies”, but have some sympathy for the idea that it is also a way of concealing emotions from others to avoid showing them we are “afraid, shocked or disgusted”.

    I am not covering my mouth with shock at the fact that England’s series didn’t go as well as some thought it might after the first Test.

  3. Did you see… Jonny Bairstow cease to be a specialist batter? Please tell me they won’t pick him purely to bat in the summer. He has had 2, count ’em, 2 good years with the bat since 2012. If he isn’t keeping wickets, he has no place in the team.

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