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Cricketers of the year

Ben Stokes - The Leading Men's Cricketer in the World in 2022

England Test captain was the most influential figure in men's cricket last year

Will Macpherson
Ben Stokes looks on ahead of the toss, Pakistan vs England, 3rd Test, Karachi, 1st day, December 17, 2022

Ben Stokes was appointed Test skipper with little captaincy experience  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

In 2022, Ben Stokes's Test batting and bowling averages were 36 and 31 - roughly the same as his career figures. He played four one-day internationals, scoring 53 runs and taking no wickets, then retired from the format. He returned to T20 cricket, and overcame a modest start to play two vital innings. It was, according to the statistics, an unremarkable year. And yet Stokes was unquestionably the most influential figure in men's cricket.
On April 28, Stokes had been appointed England's Test captain by Rob Key, the ECB's new managing director of men's cricket. It was a risk: he had little captaincy experience, was considered a rough diamond, and less than a year earlier had taken a long break for mental health reasons. Key soon doubled down, pairing Stokes with Brendon McCullum, who had never coached a red-ball team. Key told fans it was "time for us all to buckle up and get ready for the ride".
His words proved prescient. Stokes inherited England's Test team at a low ebb - one win in 17, an Ashes obliteration, a state-of-the-nation review commissioned - and proved a transformative leader, as tactician and statesman. Under him, England won nine of their first ten Tests, in convention-defying fashion.
It seemed each victory was more absurd than the last. With Jonny Bairstow leading the charge, England's gallivanting batting became their trademark. But perhaps Bazball should have been known as Benball: McCullum was Stokes's facilitator, emboldening him and sanctioning his aggressive attitude. If Stokes was sometimes dismissed playing an ugly hoick, it was because he wanted to send his team a message.
Just as notable was the way he encouraged England to bowl. An attack rendered toothless in Australia, and ravaged by injury, took ten wickets in each of the first 19 innings under his leadership, as he constantly tinkered with his field in search of wickets. England's overall approach reached its zenith in an extraordinary win at Rawalpindi, where they scored 506 for four in 75 overs on the opening day (after many of the squad were ill), then took 20 wickets on the flattest of pitches.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp