Unforced Power

In modern sport, as in life, time waits for no man. If your career loses momentum to injuries or fading form, people move past you. You can be forgotten as quickly as you arrived.

This time last year people were talking about Ben Stokes. Late in the season, without much fanfare or success, he even played for England. But his form was in decline and a persistent finger injury was causing serious concern. In the early winter, with little publicity, he was ruled out of England's winter programme.

Last Tuesday saw Stokes in Taunton, struggling to re-establish himself as part of a Durham side which is also far from what it was. On the game's first afternoon, he came to the wicket with his side 232 for 2, high at four perhaps, but with the sun on his back and the wind grazing his muscular forearms.

Though he is still only twenty, the left-handed Stokes is an imposing figure. At the wicket he still has the air of an overgrown schoolboy humiliating his puny peers in the under-thirteens and at times the bat resembles a toy in his hands in the way it always did with Andrew Flintoff, but, although he has the customary lumbering footwork of the really big man, his basic technique is good. His head is still, allowing his gifted natural timing to work its spell. He likes to deal in boundaries and at Taunton he hits eight fours and a six in his innings, which lasts just under an hour and a half. Most of these are drives and pulls, and one wristy on-drive off Arul Suppiah which beats long-on with ease, even though the fielder has only a few yards to move, stays in the memory for its casual, unforced power.

On sixty, Stokes strays from his crease after nudging the ball back to the bowler and is brilliantly run out by a reflex shy at the stumps. He leaves, head bowed, frustrated, not for the first time you sense, by his inability to convert a virile start into a big innings. The two aren't necessarily connected, but, after Stokes is out, his side's innings rapidly declines. Two days later Durham are defeated, and Stokes fails to score in the second innings.

There are still many rough edges to smooth. But we will be hearing much more of Ben Stokes.

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