The game of cricket has been blessed with many great all-rounders over the last few decades. The likes of Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Jacques Kallis, and Andrew Flintoff are some of the greats of the game. In recent times, cricket has witnessed a scarcity in the field of genuine all-rounders. With the expansion of T20 in the global stage, a lot of bits and pieces all-rounders have emerged. They are absolutely invaluable for the limited-over fixtures, especially T20s, with their six-hitting ability and knack of picking up wickets by outfoxing batsmen with variations. But the all-rounders who can walk into the national side any day of the week regardless of the color of the ball -- both as a pure batsman batting at top six and as a pure bowler bowling in crucial junctions -- are very rare nowadays. Should we try to find these rare qualities in modern day players, the first pair of names that come to mind are Shakib Al Hasan and Ben Stokes.
''Who is the better of the two - Shakib or Stokes?'' is a question worth creating a heated discussion. Shakib is arguably the best player Bangladesh has ever produced whereas Stokes is set to be, if not already, the perfect successor of Andrew Flintoff to continue the legacy of great English all-rounders. Shakib, on the other hand, -- being a Bangladeshi player -- has not had enough opportunities to either play as many matches as some of the players from the bigger sides or to be at the centre of attention. Former Aussie batsman Michael Hussey highly praised Shakib during the last World Cup saying, “Over the course of his career, he has been very underrated but given the numbers, once Shakib finishes his career he’s going to go down as one of the greats and certainly the greatest player to have played for Bangladesh.” Stokes too has all the potential and determination to be one of the greatest. Dominic Cork, former English seam bowler, commented, “I genuinely think he can get better because of his work ethic. He wants to bat, he wants to bowl, he wants to work on his game, wants to get better. I just see this man not becoming only the best in the world but one of the best we have had ever. That's how highly I rate him.”
One parameter that is largely accepted by most cricket experts to estimate the effectiveness of an all-rounder is to subtract the batting average from the bowling average. Under this parameter in Tests, Shakib, with an average difference of 8.28, tops the chart among the current players, while Ben Stokes, with 6.44, holds the second position. If the all-time list is taken into consideration, Shakib secures the sixth position. Under the same parameter in ODIs, Shakib, with a difference of 7.65, holds the second position, only behind Angelo Mathews, among the current players and the sixth position in the all-time leaderboard. A point to be noted, only players with more than 2000 runs and 100 wickets have been taken into consideration in this analysis. Thus, Stokes does not feature in the ODI list since he hasn’t accumulated 100 wickets yet.
Test cricket, without a doubt the purest form of the game, requires its players a lot of resilient characters. Therefore, not everyone can soak the heat in the middle to perform big. Both Shakib and Stokes have been instrumental in the success of their respective sides. Since Shakib’s debut, with him in the team Bangladesh has a win percentage of 19.64 in Test cricket, and without him that percentage drops down to 10.53. Since Stokes’s debut, the English side has had a win percentage of 44.78 and 40 respectively with and without him. For the last five years, those winning percentage figures with and without Shakib have stood at 26.32 and 16.67 respectively and 49.18 and 33.33 with and without Stokes respectively. However, such with or without figures are pretty close to each other in ODIs, showing both the sides have many other match winners at their disposal.
In games won by England, Stokes has been awarded man of the match seven times each in both Tests and ODIs. Shakib has been awarded the same three times in Tests and a staggering twenty times in ODIs in Bangladesh victories. As for the man of the series in winning cases, Shakib has been awarded it four and five times respectively in Tests and ODIs, whereas Stokes has won the award once and thrice respectively.
Shakib has been blessed with many records as an all-rounder. He is only the third player in history to score a hundred and take a ten-wicket haul in the same Test. He is only the fourth bowler in history to have five-wicket hauls against nine test playing nations. Stokes, on the other hand, is the second fastest player to reach the double of 4,000 runs and 150 wickets in Test cricket. Shakib, however, is breathing on Stokes’s neck. The Englishman achieved the feat only in 64 Tests, taking just one more appearance than Sir Gary Sobers. Shakib has played 56 Tests so far scoring 3862 runs and taking 210 wickets.
Both these players have very sweet memories in the recent past. Although Shakib experienced a one-year suspension, his performance in the ICC CWC19 was an absolute peach with 606 runs at an average of 86.57 and 11 wickets with an economy rate of 5.39, something that arrives only once, if any, in a lifetime. On the other hand, Stokes has taken himself on a whole new level with his firm determination and resilience in tough situations - be it holding his nerves at Lord's in the world cup final or soaking the pressure at Headingley in an Ashes encounter.
Shakib Al Hasan is currently 33 years of age while Ben Stokes is 29. As both these players still have a few years of cricket left in them, cricket lovers would be fascinated to witness even better performance to keep fueling the argument over who is truly the better between these two all-time greats in the making.
The writer is an IBA student at University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]