The “fabled” feat of hitting six sixes in an over has only ever been achieved twice in first-class cricket, said Ali Martin in The Guardian: by Sir Garfield Sobers in 1968 and by Ravi Shastri in 1985. And last week at New Road, Worcester, Ben Stokes, England’s new captain, came within a whisker of joining this “elite club”. Playing for his county, Durham, against Worcestershire, he launched the first five balls of Josh Baker’s 20th over for six, bringing up a 64-ball century in the process. Sensing that history was about to be made, the crowd fell silent. Yet off the next ball, Stokes could only manage a “one-bounce four”. He had plundered 34 from the 18-year-old left-arm spinner’s over – but still recoiled in “frustration at an opportunity missed”. When he was finally out, for 161 off 88 balls, he had to content himself with a lesser record. He had struck 17 sixes – the most ever in a County Championship innings.
It’s probably a mistake to read too much into what happens in a county game on a lifeless pitch, said Mike Atherton in The Times. Nonetheless, Stokes’s spectacular innings – his first since being appointed England captain – feels like a “pointer towards the rest of the summer”. For a while now, when representing his country, Stokes has reigned in his attacking instincts and “tried to play as a dutiful top-order batsman” – an approach that has fitted with the team’s generally “timid” play during the final year of Joe Root’s tenure. But with Stokes at the helm, it seems inevitable that England will switch to a more aggressive style. And if that means that when he bats, the “brutal middle-order stroke-maker from yesteryear” will resurface, then we “could be in for a treat”.
Given Stokes’s lack of experience as a leader, it’s hard to know what sort of captain he’ll make, said Nick Hoult in The Daily Telegraph. In his entire professional career, he has captained a team on less than a dozen occasions. Those close to him speak of a superb tactician who is more empathetic than his “alpha male” reputation suggests – but how this will translate into handling the pressures of captaincy won’t be clear for a good few months. The precedents set by Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff – the two all-rounders to whom Stokes is most often compared – aren’t exactly encouraging, said Tim Wigmore in the same paper. Both had short, unhappy spells as national captain. However, Stokes, at nearly 31, is an older, wiser and a more confident figure than Botham or Flintoff were when they assumed the role, and that could make all the difference. Yes, the challenge is “gargantuan” – but he may well have the “strength” of personality to meet it.
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