Ben Stokes is currently the best allrounder in the world, a statement oft-quoted will be accepted by many followers of the great game without any counter query.
However is he? As keen analysts of the great game should we accept blindly or should we ask counter queries before accepting. Some queries which come to mind could be (i) Do we automatically romanticise pace bowling allrounders, (ii) do we not give due importance to spin bowling allrounders and (iii) are there any spinning allrounders today who can pose a challenge to Stokes.
Let us have a look.
Now an allrounder is one who can be selected both for batting or for bowling alone. The classic example is Gary Sobers, called by a 5 in 1 cricketer. Kallis too was one and he batted as well as Dravid and took as many wickets as Zaheer Khan.
However no one in modern cricket can stake such a claim, except maybe Moeen Ali of England. Therefore it is prudent to talk of allrounders today as batting allrounders such as Stokes and bowling allrounders such as Ashwin and Jadeja.
Let us for a moment go back to the beginning of England’s just concluded series vs South Africa. Coach Bayliss said Moeen Ali was a batsman who can bowl a bit. According to both his coach and captain Moeen was the second spinner for his team behind Liam Dawson. However Moeen responded with a magical series, performing every match, whether it was a 87 and a ten-for in the 1st Test, 4 crucial wickets in the second, a hattrick in the 3rd to dramatically end the Test or a five-for and a blazing 75 in the 4th and final Test. Indeed, Moeen played a crucial role in England’s 3-1 win over South Africa which was their 1st home series win over them in almost 20 years.
Ben Stokes too performed splendidly. These 2 allrounders played a stellar role for England. Moeen took 25 wickets @ 15.64 which is the best performance by an English spinner since 1961. He also scored 252 runs in the series and more importantly he and Stokes had crucial knocks in potentially troublesome positions. Indeed, both of them proved themselves worthy allrounders. Moeen’s double of 20 wickets and over 200 runs was only the 7th such occurrence in the last 17 years.
Who else have performed this feat?
Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock did so in the 2000-01 away series vs West Indies. Kallis scored 267 runs and took 20 wickets. Pollock too took 20 wickets and scored 302 runs in their team’s 2-1 series win with super performances too by Heschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Cullinan and Donald.
Flintoff and Warne too performed this feat in the 2005 Ashes series which is universally accepted as one of the most thrilling series of all time. Shane Warne took a magical 40 wickets and scored 249 runs. Brett Lee and Mcgrath too had good performances with the ball while Ponting, Langer and Clarke did well with the bat. Yet England won 2-1 with stellar batting performances by Kevin Pietersen and Marcus Trescothick and super bowling by Simon Jones and Harmison. However the star was Flintoff who scored as much as 402 runs in the series apart from taking 24 wickets to be England’s most successful bowler. Not surprisingly, Warne and Flintoff were joint Men of the series.
Flintoff in fact is the only player who has done this difficult feat twice. He helped England to a 2-1 series win in South Africa by taking 23 wickets and scoring 227 runs. While Andrew Strauss and Hoggard shone for the Englishmen, it was Flintoff who played crucial roles for his team.
England were however at the receiving end in 2016 when India handed them a 4 Nil defeat. The 2 Indian spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravinder Jadeja performed very well for India and were a crucial difference between the two sides as the English spinners in comparision did not do as well. Left arm spinner Jadeja took 26 wickets and scored 224 runs while Ashwin scored 306 runs and took 28 wickets. Root was England’s best batsman with 491 runs while Virat Kohli scored 655 runs for India. Moeen Ali had 2 Test hundreds, however inexplicably he did not do as well with the ball as expected.
Now let us not fall into the trap of assuming that this allrounders feat having been done 7 times in 17 years is an easy feat. That it is an achievement can be understood from the fact that before 2000, it was only done way back in 1985, and there was no such performance in all test series for althe next 15-16 years
The last person to do the double of 20 and 200 in the 20th century was none other than the peerless Ian Botham in the 1985 Ashes series which was won 3-1 by England with 2 Tests drawn. Botham took 31 wickets and scored 250 runs and contributed in the entire series helping Englishmen Gower, Ellison, Robinson and Gooch win the series for England.
Now if one analyses the above performances, one sees that along with Botham, there were 3 more great pace bowling allrounders, namely Imran, Kapil and Hadlee. Then there were Kallis, Pollock and Flintoff. After that currently there is only Stokes. Is the fact that he is the only pace bowling allrounder which adds to the romance. Otherwise, apart from Warne and Kumble who have retired, all the current bowling allrounders are spinning allrounders, namely Moeen, Ashwin, Jadeja and Shakib.
Let us examine their performances in recent times. I have taken test performances only and have put below how many runs and wickets have been scored and taken by the 4 spin bowling allrounders and the sole pace bowling allrounder.
Performance of all-rounders in Test matches in the last one year
865+48 Moeen Ali
684+97 R Ashwin
663+87 Ravindra Jadeja
656+29 Shakib AHasan
772+26 Ben Stokes
Not un-surprisingly Moeen leads the runs table followed by Stokes while Ashwin and Jadeja lead the wickets tally comfortably. While Stokes is indeed an incredible impact player in the sense that he scores runs when needed and does the same while bowling as well, it is seen that as regards bowling the spin bowling allrounders ( except Shakib) are far ahead of him. Indeed, Ashwin, Jadeja and Moeen are all ahead of Stokes very comfortably. The latest ICC Allrounders table also sees Jadeja at the top and spinners occupying the 1st 4 places.
In conclusion, without going into who is the best allrounder in the world, this proves that spinning allrounders need to be given their due in world cricket. They are worth their weight in gold.