OPINION | King Stokes enters a realm of his own

Lloyd Burnard
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Possibly the greatest ODI of all time and the possibly the greatest Test match of all time happened within six weeks of each other, and Ben Stokes won both of those contests by himself. 

His contribution in the World Cup final - Super Over heroics and everything that came before – on July 14 against New Zealand at Lord's was not from this planet.

It was difficult to imagine anything more dramatic on a cricket field, but we got close on Sunday when Stokes' majestic and unfathomable 135* won England the third Ashes Test against the Aussies at Headingley. 

Stokes, 2* off 50 balls overnight, did it all by himself and secured England's most famous Test win and their highest successful run chase in Test history. 

If a more purple patch has ever existed with the stakes this high, let it be seen. 

Kusal Perera's 153* against the Proteas at Kingsmead, where he shared a 78* run stand with No 11 Vishwa Fernando to win the Test match, was every bit as good as what Stokes did on Sunday. 

The difference is that the latter's knock came just after he had single-handedly won a World Cup for his country. 

Stokes, at 28, has solidified his position as a great of English cricket and the global game.

How he betters the last month-and-a-half of his cricketing career is bitter-sweet, because he probably never will. How can he? 

I was lucky enough to be in the press box when a 24-year-old Stokes absolutely brutalised the South African attack in Cape Town on his way to a career-best 258 (198). When Stokes was eventually run out, Newlands rose as one to applaud one of the best knocks most in the ground that day would ever see. 

More than just the ability, which is obviously on a level few international cricketers can tap into to, is how much it all means to Stokes. 

In that aspect, he is the perfect advertisement for international cricket and Test cricket, in particular.

Win or lose on Sunday, with a century or no century to his name, you just know it meant the world to Stokes. 

It is how he plays every time he steps onto the pitch for England, and that is what makes his incredible successes so easy to appreciate. 

It is a lesson that former Proteas allrounder and new T20 batting coach Lance Klusener is aware of, and something that he wants to bring back to the national side. 

Did the Proteas take on the World Cup with the same intensity that Stokes displayed on Sunday? Where every shot and every run and every minute means everything?  

South Africa went the opposite route at the World Cup, where downplaying the magnitude of the tournament was a deliberate ploy to try and encourage freedom and cricket without pressure.

It backfired, and it wasn't a good look.

More obvious, though, is that the Proteas currently do not have a player who can do what Stokes did on Sunday.

It's as much a mental issue as it is a talent issue, and Stokes has shown that his mental strength is as important as his physical ability. 

By the end, Stokes couldn't watch as No 11 Jack Leach kept out the firing Pat Cummins.

It was theatre. 

When he slapped Cummins through the off side for the winning runs, Stokes lifted his arms and roared like the king of the jungle he was. 

It is one of those moments you will see played over and over and over again, and it is important to appreciate them, because they do not happen often. 

It has been a long and winding road for Stokes, who has had his fair share of off-field controversies that at one stage threatened his England career. 

As a result, he continues to divide public opinion, but that is often a symptom that accompanies the best. 

One thing that can never be questioned, though, is Stokes' commitment to the cause. 

Rain or shine, bat or ball, Test match cricket or ODIs ... he is always up for it.

Stokes was visibly and emotionally drained in the minutes following Sunday's win, but every aching muscle would have been worth it. 

He left a triumphant and deserving national hero, and as he did, it was impossible not to wonder who South African cricket could turn to in the months ahead to produce such moments of individual genius. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

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