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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Test cricket: England captain Ben Stokes’s handling of Tom Hartley is a statement of leadership

I guess it’s just gonna be a message to a lot of people, says Stokes

Indranil Majumdar Hyderabad Published 30.01.24, 07:23 AM
Ben Stokes knows how to get the best out of his men.

Ben Stokes knows how to get the best out of his men. Getty Images

Ben Stokes is not one to show much emotion on the field but the England captain had a lingering smile on his lips during Sunday's media conference. Ollie Pope was next to him but it was Stokes who had been doing most of the answering.

Moments earlier, Rahul Dravid had lauded Pope saying he hadn't "seen a better exhibition of sweeping and reverse sweeping in these conditions" against a quality bowling attack and Stokes couldn't hide his glee.

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"Wow, that's phenomenal" Stokes said turning to Pope.

It is this trait of taking immense pride in the efforts of his teammates that has made Bazball so successful. Any other captain would have wilted when they were reduced to 163/5 in their second innings after being 190 runs in arrears. But not Stokes, he had belief in Pope and his tailenders.

He trusts his teammates and backs his instincts. His decision to play with three spinners and one fast bowler never found the backing from former English captains, but Stokes persisted with Tom Hartley even after Yashasvi Jaiswal welcomed him to Test cricket with two sixes in his first over.

Hartley's first three overs cost him 34 runs but Stokes' faith in him provided confidence to the youngster. He didn't push him out of the attack but only made him aware of his importance and craft.

He realised how it felt to be a debutant when the youngster was battling nerves and provided him with the required strength and assurance.

It explains the success of several English youngsters in the current side, not just Hartley's nine wickets on debut. Stokes has shown how unerring faith can prove to be powerful and has made them feel ten feet tall.

The trust in Hartley paid off following an expensive spell in the first innings (2/131) as he learnt to control his length. He emerged a different bowler once he achieved a few early wickets.

For Stokes, it's about recognising the players' efforts. Even after conceding such a huge first-innings lead, he never forgot to congratulate each member individually on the way back to the pavilion after the last Indian wicket fell. He never seemed bogged down by the enormous pressure of the task which lay ahead but decided to live in the moment.

"I guess it's just gonna be a message to a lot of people. The things that you say... are obviously only words until you put them into action. But it's amazing what you can get out of individuals if you walk the walk after talking the talk," Stokes said after his "No.1 victory".

"I committed to the decision after giving the new ball to Tom that this was going to be a long spell whatever happened. I knew he was going to have to bowl again, have to bowl another spell. That was his first spell in Test cricket against a quality team who play spin incredibly well.

"So I was committed to that but whether or not that’s a reason he’s walked away with nine wickets, seven in the second innings, bowling us to victory, who can answer that... But it goes back to what I said, giving belief to someone in their talent. When they believe themselves it’s amazing what can happen."

Stokes' sense of camaraderie made him stand up for the youngest member of the side, Shoaib Bashir, when he couldn't travel to India because of visa issues, in the lead-up to the Test.

"When I first found the news out in Abu Dhabi I did say we shouldn't fly until Bash gets his visa but that was a little bit tongue in cheek," said Stokes.

The way Stokes made Bashir feel important will remain engraved in the mind of the young spinner. He has since joined the squad and will now be keen to deliver.

No wonder then that the players are prepared to run through stone wall barriers for Stokes. Bazball is not just about playing aggressive cricket, it is also about standing up for the players and sticking to the game plan.

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