MANCHESTER. — It is easy to get distracted by the wholehearted nature of the cricket Ben Stokes plays.
It was during his second eleven over spell of the Test that he set off towards long-off in pursuit of a ball that Jermaine Blackwood had hit off his own bowling.
Stokes has done something similar before of course, in Colombo in 2018, and here he chased the ball all the way to the boundary, throwing himself at it in an attempt to haul it back in.
That the batsmen ended up running four anyway was besides the point.
This was Stokes going above and beyond for England.
The figures themselves tell you plenty about what Stokes did in this game.
He scored 254 runs and took three wickets from 27.4 overs, conceding a little more than two runs an over.
He bowled marathon spells in each innings, taking key wickets in both. Aside from a caught and bowled, he didn’t take any other catches, though.
He really must pull his finger out.
It was, of course, an all-action display, Stokes in the thick of things as is his preference.
But the effort Stokes puts into everything he does on a cricket field shouldn’t mask the intricacies of why he was able to influence this match the way he did.
Let’s start with his bowling.
Some may have watched Stokes pounding the ball into the middle of the pitch in both innings and thought he was merely relying on all the fitness sessions he had posted on Instagram during lockdown to get him through.
Of course, it required stamina and strength but bowling short is not simply a matter of banging the ball halfway down and seeing what happens.
To bowl short effectively requires accuracy.
The line and length of the deliveries are important.
Too short and the ball sails harmlessly over the batsman’s head, too full and it bounces waist height from where it easier to defend and attack.
If the line is too wide, the batsman can swerve or sway.
Added to the complexity is that the right line and length changes depending on a variety of factors, including the surface, the age of the ball and whether the bowler is coming over or round the wicket.
As he did in the first innings, Stokes managed to consistently get the ball to rise up to that dangerous area around the batsmen’s shoulders and neck.
The line of attack from round the wicket, something he has rarely done outside of the subcontinent, made swaying out of the way difficult.
The ball always seemed to be zoning in at the batsman’s body.
And because Stokes is not genuinely quick, the batsmen are in that halfway house of thinking they can stand up and play it.
But if they do that, the fielders at short leg, leg gully and out on the leg-side boundary come into the equation.
As the West Indies showed, it is not easy to play. The other aspect to the tactic is that while it is hostile it also slows the scoring rate, creating pressure. Stokes’ 22 overs of round the wicket short stuff cost him just 42 runs in all.
“It wasn’t a set plan to go and do that but once we turned to it, we felt it looked threatening,” Stokes said after England had sealed their victory.
“Not only is it a plan that we feel that can get us a wicket but it also really dries the scoring rate up. We set certain fields to it that you can’t really go anywhere as a batter.” When batsmen have nowhere to go, trouble looms.
Stokes’ dismissal of Jermaine Blackwood was the perfect example of why he was so effective with the short ball.
The line of the delivery, starting a foot outside leg-stump but carrying on with the arm so that it arrived at Blackwood just on leg stump, meant it was difficult to sway out of the way.
It arrived at armpit height which created uncertainty — Blackwood shaped to pull and then realised it was too quick and too short for him to be in control.
In the end, the Jamaican could only fend it off the glove towards where a leg-slip would have been. Jos Buttler scampered round and did the rest.
Another vital breakthrough from Stokes, that of Kraigg Brathwaite in the first innings, was similar, although the ball was fended back to the bowler himself who took the catch. — Cricbuzz