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Virat Kohli (left) pats Ben Stokes on the back as he walks back after getting dismissed on second day of the first Test between India and England at Rajkot ( AFP)

England were routed 0-5 by Australia in the Ashes 2013-14. The only man to get a three-figure from the English camp in that series was the then 22-year-old Ben Stokes. Playing in his second Test, Stokes had kept England in the hunt in their chase of 504. Stokes countered a fired-up Mitchell Johnson to stroke a fine 120 that helped England lose gracefully. Two Tests later he claimed a six-for and the cricket world knew a star was born, a star that would represent England cricket for many years to come. Stokes had to shoulder the expectation of being the next Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff. Live Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot

On Wednesday at Rajkot, Joe Root’s unusual dismissal brought Stokes to the crease. Indian bowlers were eyeing late wickets on the opening day of the Test. After a few quiet balls, Stokes drove for one to get off the mark in the 11th delivery he faced. There we no cheer from the stand, but it was certainly a moment of relief for the southpaw. This was his fourth innings against India, and his scores in the previous 3 read 0, 0 and 0. His pair at Lord’s in 2014 cost him his place in the England side.

He made amends for that, and more. He erased those duck-ful memories as he became the third centurion of the innings after Root and Moeen Ali. Stokes stroked to a 235-ball 128, finishing as the highest scorer in the England innings. India had their chances that they failed to grab but Stokes made them pay for their hapless fielding but the maturity he displayed was tremendous.

Indian captain Virat Kohli is not used to such pressure at home. He made some visible gaffes. Amit Mishra was under-bowled on Day One, while local superstar Ravindra Jadeja was deployed much later on Day Two. Stokes toyed around with Ravichandran Ashwin and Mishra, and greeted Jadeja with 11 runs in the latter’s first over of the day.

England coach Trevor Bayliss believes Stokes can be one of the all-time great all-rounders. Being a gifted cricketer is an advantage, but the pursuit to improve sets a cricketer apart and that is what Stokes has done. He has practiced for the spin-friendly subcontinent conditions for weeks.

“The strides he has made on the subcontinent playing spin have been top class. It was not all that long ago we were wondering how he might go on spin-friendly wickets, but he is a guy that works extremely hard in the nets. It is his defence to spin that has improved out of sight. We know that if he gets a bad ball he can hit anything over the fence, but you have to be there to get that loose ball. In the past he probably has not had a lot of footwork, has played from the crease and backed his eye and his hands,” observed Bayliss after Stokes’ Chittagong all-round heroics that saw England triumph.

Stokes four-for had helped England gain a lead; his 85 in the second innings gave the side an upper hand. Stokes put up a brilliant display of reverse swing to clean up the Bangladesh tail on the final day.

The effort Stokes has put in the nets was apparent. A natural strokemaker, Stokes curbed his instincts and played according to the situation. When Moeen or Jonny Bairstow stepped up the pedal, Stokes held back his machismo.

There were a few top edges that fell in empty pockets on the ground. He had the luck going his way and made it count.

The two lives

In the 113th over, Stokes slashed one hard off Umesh Yadav, got an edge and out of all the fieldsmen, it was wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha who dropped it. It was not the easiest of chances but for the standards that Saha has set for himself, this should not have been popped out.

In Umesh’s next over, Stokes got another edge. Once again Saha grassed the chance, this time a much easier chance. He got two hands but the cherry slipped.

Uncharacteristic Stokes

Stokes can counterattack. His knocks against New Zealand at Lord’s in 2015 had changed the course of the Test. His 258 at Cape Town had demoralised South Africa. The maturity displayed here was incredible. His knock was the catalyst that helped England to a score in excess of 500. The difference between a 380 and 537 is huge.

After going past his hundred, Stokes launched into Mishra, lofting him for six. Then he struggled with cramp, and his vigil came to a halt when finally Saha collected one off Umesh, this time down leg. By then the damage was done.

Tale of long English Tail

England have the best lower order in contemporary Test cricket. If we split it into the first five and last six, the first group got 306 at Rajkot and the last six, 221. Zafar Ansari, who usually bats in the middle-order in domestic cricket, was England’s no. 10. What more can you ask, when your no. 10 batsman consumed 83 balls for 32? He added 52 with Stokes and another 20 with Stuart Broad, easily the best No. 11 in the world.

This happened when Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid, more than decent bets with bat, contributed with only nine runs collectively.

***

Stokes’ brilliance continues raising expectations from the New Zealand-born all-rounder. Michael Vaughan fears actually fears burnout, for Stokes is a crucial member of the all the formats. He is also expected to play roles of equal importance with both bat and the ball.

The situation will be no different in the rest of the Test. India are off to a promising start and are 63 for no loss. The onus will be on Stokes to exhibit his skills, especially with the old ball. He has been a good exponent of reverse-swing. He has ticked one box by scoring a hundred; now the expectation will be to support Broad and Woakes and get it to reverse in bid to gain a sizeable lead for England.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)