Ollie Pope gushed at how Ben Stokes has “changed the game” as the England captain gears up for his 100th Test this week in Rajkot, starting on Thursday.
As well as being England’s ace in the hole and pulling out all the stops when the pressure is at its peak, Stokes’ dynamic style of leadership alongside Brendon McCullum has galvanised the national side.
Stokes boasts 14 victories from 21 Tests – no one who has captained England on 10 or more occasions in the format has a better win percentage (66.67) – and his revolutionary effect was recognised by Pope.
“It’s unbelievable,” Pope said. “For anyone to play 100 Tests is an unbelievable achievement. He’s had his highs and lows but what he’s done since he’s been captain has been amazing.
“Stokesy is not someone who likes it being all about him. He doesn’t need those accolades but away from the ground I’m sure we’ll celebrate him, get around him and think of something to do. He’s changed the game in a lot of respects. He just has a way of bringing out the best in himself when the team needs him the most.
“There have been so many unbelievable memories and hopefully he can play 100 more. He’s been great to watch and hopefully there’ll be many more special moments in his career.”
Stokes’ career in numbers
The 32-year-old will become the 16th Englishman to win 100 Test caps, joining James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Sir Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Alec Stewart, Ian Bell, Graham Gooch, David Gower, Michael Atherton, Colin Cowdrey, Sir Geoff Boycott, Kevin Pietersen, Lord Ian Botham, Sir Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe.
Of those among the group to have taken more than one Test wicket, only Stokes, Botham and Root have achieved the distinction of a higher average batting than bowling. Stokes has scored 6,251 runs at an average of 36.34, with the Englishman averaging 32.07 with the ball and three away from reaching 200 wickets.
Only 11 men have made a higher Test score for England than Stokes’ 258 against South Africa in 2016, which came in 198 balls and was both England’s fastest double century and the fastest score of 250-plus in Test history.
Stokes has 13 Test centuries in total and four five-wicket hauls, while England have successfully chased five fourth-inning targets over 250 during his time as captain – including a national-record 378 against India at Edgbaston in 2022 – and three of their top eight largest ever.
How Stokes made immediate impression
As England infamously went down 5-0 to the Mitchell Johnson-inspired Australia during the 2013-14 Ashes series, one bright spark of that Ashes series was arguably Stokes’ maiden Test century on a spicy Perth pitch in the third Test.
It was just his second Test for England and his 120 earned Australia’s grudging respect, while Ian Bell – who played in that match – admitting that match made him realise that Stokes was destined for a successful career.
“When you saw him play cricket and compete like he did – you knew straight away the talent he had,” Bell said on the latest Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. “That series in 2013 was particularly tough because we were on the wrong side of some tough results – and you know what it’s like in Australia when it’s not going your way.
“Having gone through that, it can affect your confidence, but there’s no doubt it didn’t affect Ben at all. His hundred, I was lucky enough to be in the middle for quite a lot of that and that was the day I thought, ‘Wow, this lad is going to be some player’. The way he took on the short ball, the way he hit down the ground. There were some amazing signs.”
As for whether Stokes stood out as a future England captain during those early stages of his international career, Bell added: “It has been brilliant to watch over the last 18 months him as a as a leader, and as a tactician as well. I think that’s the most impressive part.
“He was very raw but, a bit like we saw with Fred [Andrew Flintoff] at times, he was a leader in the way he played his cricket.
“The way he has really galvanised this group, you probably didn’t quite see that in the early days. But he was a leader in terms of his performances and that ‘give me the ball’ attitude at any time. In the toughest of moments, he finds a way.”
Could we see Stokes back bowling?
England are a bowler light for the final three Tests after deciding against naming a replacement for slow left-armer Jack Leach, who has travelled back to the UK following a series-ending knee injury.
The sight of Stokes – who has not bowling competitively since July last year – in the nets in England training on Tuesday morning left locals wondering whether the 32-year-old would spring a surprise and return to all-rounder status, but Pope admitted it would be unlikely just 11 weeks after knee surgery.
“He’s just getting back to bowling and getting his knee right,” Pope said. “That’s why he had surgery – just to make sure that when he is back bowling, he’s going to be bowling quickly and as well as he can.
“I’d be surprised and I guess you never know. But I think he’s just preparing as a batter.”
Following a gripping pair of Tests in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam that has left the series evenly poised at 1-1, England have had a six-day breather in Abu Dhabi to decompress and go again.
“It’s a nice way just to refresh,” Pope added. “The guys are energised coming into these last three Tests. We’ve loved every bit of this tour so far. Two competitive games of cricket that have been awesome to play in. But it was a nicely timed break to recharge the batteries.”
Follow over-by-over text commentary from the third Test between India and England, in Rajkot, from Thursday live on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App (first ball at 4am).
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