January 29, 2016

Stokes' all-round brilliance

For the first time since Ian Botham in India in 1981-82, a player scored 350-plus runs and took 12 or more wickets in an overseas Test series

In the last 40 years, there are only six instances of a player scoring 350-plus runs and taking 12-plus wickets in a Test series © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

England's Test series win in South Africa was remarkable for several reasons, but one of the key aspects was the all-round performances of Ben Stokes. He had been earmarked as a special talent from the moment he scored a defiant 120 in Perth and then took 6 for 99 in Sydney, during an otherwise terrible Ashes campaign for England in 2013-14; however, over the next five series, he didn't quite string it together with both bat and ball. In the home series against New Zealand, he struck his second Test hundred and averaged 57, but took only four wickets, each costing him 68.50. In the Ashes he took 11 wickets at 33.45, but averaged 25 with the bat. And in England's Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, he didn't enjoy much success with bat or ball, averaging 14.66 with the bat, and taking five wickets in three Tests.

In South Africa, though, it all came together for him. Most of the pitches offered the pace bowlers a fair amount of assistance, and Stokes relished the conditions, taking 12 wickets at 29.16. Even when he wasn't among the wickets, he was troubling the batsmen with his sharp pace and movement, and was a key component of England's four-pronged pace attack. With bat in hand, he was even more effective, scoring an incredible double-hundred in Cape Town; he also scored his runs so quickly that it immediately put South Africa on the defensive, allowing England to string together several crucial partnerships in the lower middle order. He finished with 411 runs - easily his best aggregate in a series - at an average of 58.71. It was clear that he was the Man of the Series long before it was officially announced.

Stokes' contributions set him apart as a truly world-class allrounder, for it has become increasingly rare to see players make such match-defining contributions with both bat and ball. In all of Test history, there have only been 33 instances of a player taking 12 or more wickets and scoring 350-plus runs in a series; the last such instance, before Stokes', was by Andrew Flintoff in the historic 2005 Ashes series, when he scored 402 runs and took 24 wickets in five Tests. Flintoff also achieved it against West Indies in 2004, while Ian Botham did it twice in less than a year, against India and Australia in 1981. Between the two such performances in 1981 and 2004, there was only one other instance of a player scoring 350-plus and taking 12 or more in a series, by Jacques Kallis against West Indies in 1998-99.

Among the four famous allrounders of the 1980s, Botham was the only one who achieved this feat. Imran Khan passed 300 runs only once in a series - 324 in India in 1986-87 - but took only eight wickets in that series. Kapil Dev twice scored 300-plus runs and took 12-plus wickets in a series - against West Indies in 1978-79 and against England in 1981-82 - but his best series aggregate was 329. Richard Hadlee's best series aggregate was 301, against England in 1983, a series in which he also took 21 wickets.

Kapil, Hadlee and Imran were largely bowling allrounders, though, whose main role in the team was to take wickets. Stokes is more of a support seamer for England, thanks to the presence of three other world-class fast bowlers, while his batting at No. 6 is more vital. Also, Hadlee and Imran were hampered by the fact that New Zealand, especially, and Pakistan, didn't play too many series of four or more Tests - there were only two such series for Hadlee, and seven for Imran, compared to 15 for Kapil and 13 for Botham.

Players scoring 350+ runs and taking 12+ wkts in a series since 1975
Player Series Mat Runs Bat Av Wkts Bowl Av Ave Diff
 Ben Stokes  Eng in SA, 2015-16  4  411  58.71  12  29.16  29.54
 Andrew Flintoff  Aus in Eng, 2005  5  402  40.20  24  27.29  12.90
 Andrew Flintoff  WI in Eng, 2004  4  387  64.50  14  21.21  43.28
 Jacques Kallis  WI in SA, 1998-99  5  485  69.28  17  17.58  51.69
 Ian Botham  Eng in Ind, 1981-82  6  440  55.00  17  38.82  16.17
 Ian Botham  Aus in Eng 1981  6  399  36.27  34  20.58  15.68

Stokes' feat was all the more impressive, though, because he achieved it in a four-Test series, and he did it overseas. There have been only six instances ever of a player achieving this double in a series of four or fewer Tests, and 13 in any overseas series; the last player to achieve this overseas before him was Botham, in India in 1981-82. The last four such instances are all by England allrounders, with Tony Greig featuring twice, while Garry Sobers achieved this feat three times in the 1960s, twice in Australia and once in England.

Players scoring 350+ runs and taking 12+ wkts in an away series
Player Series Mat Runs Bat Av Wkts Bowl Av Ave Diff
 Ben Stokes  Eng in SA, 2015-16  4  411  58.71  12  29.16  29.54
 Ian Botham  Eng in Ind, 1981-82  6  440  55.00  17  38.82  16.17
 Tony Greig  Eng in Aus, 1974-75  6  446  40.54  17  40.05  0.48
 Tony Greig  Eng in WI, 1973-74  5  430  47.77  24  22.62  25.15
 Bevan Congdon  NZ in WI, 1971-72  5  531  88.50  13  34.30  54.19
 Garry Sobers  WI in Aus, 1968-69  5  497  49.70  18  40.72  8.97
 Rusi Surti  Ind in Aus, 1967-68  4  367  45.87  15  35.20  10.67
 Garry Sobers  WI in Eng, 1966  5  722  103.14  20  27.25  75.89
 Garry Sobers  WI in Aus, 1960-61  5  430  43.00  15  39.20  3.80
 Keith Miller  Aus in WI, 1955  5  439  73.16  20  32.05  41.11
 Wally Hammond  Eng in Aus, 1936-37  5  468  58.50  12  25.08  33.41
 Monty Noble  Aus, in Eng, 1899  5  367  52.42  13  31.23  21.19
 William Barnes  Eng in Aus, 1884-85  5  369  52.71  19  15.36  37.34

Not only did Stokes score the runs and take the wickets in South Africa, he also made those 411 runs off just 377 balls, at a strike rate of 109. Among all the batsmen who have scored at least 300 runs in a series since the beginning of 1975, only one scored those runs at a faster rate: in the series against India in 2005-06, Shahid Afridi made 330 runs at a rate of 121.32.

Stokes' aggression, and his skills with both bat and ball, have made him a key member of England's line-up in all formats. Given his all-round ability, his growing confidence, and his age - he is only 24 - Stokes is well on his way to what should be a long and outstanding career with both bat and ball, in all formats.

Best strike rates in a Test series since 1975 (Min 300 runs)
Player Series Mat Runs Ave SR 100s
 Shahid Afridi  Ind in Pak, 2005-06  3  330  66.00  121.32  2
 Ben Stokes  Eng in SA, 2015-16  4  411  58.71  109.01  1
 Virender Sehwag  SL in Ind, 2009-10  3  491  122.75  108.14  2
 Nathan Astle  Eng in NZ, 2001-02  3  314  62.80  103.28  1
 Virender Sehwag  SA in Ind, 2007-08  3  372  74.40  102.76  1
 Adam Gilchrist  Aus in NZ, 2004-05  3  343  171.50  102.69  2
 Viv Richards  Eng in WI, 1985-86  5  331  66.20  102.47  1
 Adam Gilchrist  Eng in Aus, 2002-03  5  333  55.50  102.46  1

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter