Ben Stokes proved he is a million-dollar man when he hit a maiden Twenty20 century that put him firmly in the Indian Premier League’s class of superstar players.
Stokes stroked 103 off 63 balls to lead his team, Rising Pune Supergiants, to victory over Gujarat Lions on Monday and justify his status as the most expensive player in this year’s tournament.
It was the kind of one-man show that led to Pune paying £1.4 million for Stokes in the IPL auction this year and further confirmed that England have one of the world’s great talents in their side.
Some players struggle to handle the pressure that comes with a huge IPL salary and the weight of expectation that comes with being a side’s talisman from overseas. Stokes had missed the previous two matches with injury, and had made contributions in his previous four matches for Pune without producing the blockbuster performance.
But on Monday evening he delivered in style to win a crucial game for his team that pushed them into the top four play-off places. Hobbling badly at the end due to cramp in a calf, Stokes struck six sixes and seven fours as Pune won off the penultimate ball.
“It was one of the good days,” he said. “I actually think it did me some good having a rest. I felt my training was slipping away a bit in that I was doing some training that I was not benefiting from. It was quite good to get in the nets and just hit the ball properly and maybe I took that into today’s innings and natural instincts take over when you are out there as well.”
The England and Wales Cricket Board gave Stokes permission to miss the series against Ireland this week to gain more IPL experience and his innings has proved that was the correct call. He will return to England on May 14 with confidence high.
Stokes’s profile in India will now rocket. Batsmen are worshipped by IPL supporters and those who make hundreds in such blistering style receive even more adulation. Pune will now try to tie him to a longer contract knowing the kind of fee Stokes could command in the auction room next time around from franchises keen to poach his services.
Stokes started slowly, recognising the innings had to rebuild after coming in at 10 for three chasing 162 to win. A 76-run stand off 64 balls with M S Dhoni put his team back in the game but when Dhoni departed at 118 for five, Pune still needed 44 off only 29 balls. Stokes kept going, using controlled aggression as he moved through the gears, running plenty of singles as well as trying to clear the rope.
By playing in the IPL, Stokes is showing off his talent to the best of his colleagues from around the world and his captain at Pune is Steve Smith, who will lead Australia against England later this year.
He will know the devastation Stokes can cause. Mutual respect will have been built over the past few weeks. “Stokes is a quality player,” said Smith. “That is why we picked him up at such a big price. He really repaid that tonight.”