During a summer in which the Ashes were regained, the limited-overs teams rebooted and an audience re-energised, few embodied England's unshackled cricket as vividly as Ben Stokes. Having been dropped from both the Test and World Cup squads over the previous 12 months, he set about starring in a series of match-changing interventions and incidents. Consistency was not the point: his contribution was about more than numbers.
Flame-haired, sporting tattoos and straining every sinew, Stokes felt at times more rock star than cricketer - especially during the First Test against New Zealand, where a virtuoso performance turned the Lord's crowd up to 11 on the amplifier and lacked only a guitar-smashing finale. A dashing 92 from 94 balls on the first day to help dig England out of a 30-for-four-shaped hole was just a taster for an 85-ball century on the fourth - a Test record at Lord's, with Alastair Cook compiling a nine-hour 162 at the other end. "Cooky wasn't telling me to stop, so that was a good sign," says Stokes.
As Joe Root led the celebrations from the balcony with a military salute, Stokes's hundred felt cathartic - not just for him, but for an England side emerging from 18 months of acrimony. As with the incident Root was mimicking - Stokes's send-off from Marlon Samuels in the Caribbean amonth earlier - the pictures went viral. By way of an encore, and thanks to the time bought by his own batting, Stokes then claimed three wickets, including Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum with successive balls. It was a victory charge watched by supporters who - on a Monday in May, no less - had queued down Wellington Road to get in.
Such batting feats proved tough to sustain, and his season became one of cameos, though a watchful 87 in the Second Ashes Test at Lord's hinted at a growing maturity. Not until Cape Town in January 2016, when he made a sensational 258 from 198 balls, the highest score by a Test No. 6, did everything come together. It was rated by many as the most destructive innings ever played by an England batsman.
In the field, Stokes was a prowling presence at backward point or fifth slip, where he held the catch of the summer, a diving one-hander to remove Adam Voges and prompt that reaction from Stuart Broad during Australia's firstmorning meltdown at Trent Bridge. It stuck, Stokes claims, only because three operations had left his right index finger permanently crooked.
His fast-medium was muscular and fiery, even though it didn't always bring a cascade of wickets. At least not until the second innings in Nottingham, where he marshalled late swing to pick up six for 36 and, in tandem with Durham team-mate Mark Wood, help secure the urn. In white-ball cricket, Stokes remained a talent with which to persevere, rather than an established force. But his bowling improved, and he masterfully closed out the Twenty20 against Australia in Cardiff.