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How Ben Stokes is like Lionel Messi at Barcelona

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

In the latest Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker compared Ben Stokes‘ genius to football legend Lionel Messi, drawing similarities in Stokes indelible impact in the England setup to that of Messi’s stature at Barcelona.

Stokes’ legend grew further with another stellar all-round performance in Manchester, scoring 176 and 78* in England’s 113-run win in the second Test. It moved him to the top of the ICC Test all-rounder’s rankings and third in the batsmen’s list even as Messi claimed a record seventh La Liga golden boot for Barcelona.

Speaking about Stokes’ workload, and the importance of preserving him for key series such as the India tour next year, Walker said that the all-rounder’s splendour comes with the risk of a fragile dependence on his skills.

“They have to manage the number of one-day games he plays,” Walker said. “They have to be prepared to say, ‘At some point this summer if you’re playing six back-to-back Test matches without even one break in the middle, you cannot play cricket with the same intensity for the whole lot.’

“I mean, he must have been on the pitch, what, 97 per cent of the last Test. You can’t do this indefinitely without running into problems. You don’t want him to collapse, you don’t want him to break down. You need him fresh as a daisy for India, but my god you need him in his prime in a year and a bit’s time.

“I was watching the post-match stuff and obviously Root spoke really well about him yesterday, but it kind of put me in mind of Messi at Barcelona and how he casts this huge shadow over the present and the future. There’s this sense of ‘everything’s fine, everything’s fine. We have a genius, we have the greatest of all in our midst, so we can just hang on to him and he will take us with him’.

“But then one day, he’s not going to be there anymore, and I was watching Root and he must be thinking, ‘My god, I am the luckiest bugger in cricket history to have this man alongside me’. But one day, he’s not going to be there. There’s a fatalistic way of looking at these things. But it did strike me yesterday that Stokes is so now far down the line, he’s so all-powerful, a Messi in this setup that it kind of brings a fragility to it.

“If he turns an ankle tomorrow and is out for eight months, what does English cricket look like then?”

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