India v England: Ben Stokes is a genuine batsman and an absolute diamond

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
England's Moeen wary of India's 'dangerous' spinners
India v England: First Test
Venue: Rajkot. Date: 9-13 November. Time: 04:00 GMT
Coverage: Live Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra & BBC Sport website, tablets, mobiles and app; live text coverage on BBC Sport website

Ben Stokes is entering virtually unique territory for an England cricketer in that he is as much of a batsman as a bowler.

Ian Botham is widely regarded as England's greatest all-rounder, but his main strength was his bowling. Stokes is getting to the stage where he really is a genuine batsman.

You are then entering the territory of Jacques Kallis, although there is some way to go before Stokes, 25, gets near what the great South African achieved.

You have to pay tribute to England assistant coach Paul Farbrace, who moved Stokes up to number six against New Zealand in May last year when he was in temporary charge of the side before Trevor Bayliss took over.

Ben Stokes and England assistant coach Paul Farbrace
England assistant coach Paul Farbrace (right) moved Stokes up to number six in the batting order in May 2015

Farbrace saw his potential and gave him the opportunity to take that place. The development of Stokes as a batsman since then has been outstanding.

His natural tendency is to be aggressive but he's got a very sound technique. He is an absolute diamond as far as England are concerned and a serious opponent for bowlers.

Towards the end of his 128 on the second day of the first Test against India, he was affected by cramp, which made him rather tentative and slowed him down.

Up to that point, he had a bit of luck and should have been out a couple of times when he was dropped by wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha, but that happens sometimes.

Stokes' four Test centuries have been scored on four different continents and any international cricketer wants to show his value by being able to play away from home.

Most people are adept at playing in their own familiar conditions but it is only through travelling abroad and adjusting your approach and technique that you really prove your worth as an international cricketer. Achieving that speaks volumes for the talent he has.

Stokes is a talismanic character. He can take the game by the scruff of the neck and is someone who commands respect. When you see him wandering around, he will look you straight in the eye and always say hello with a friendly smile.

He draws people to him in the same way Botham did. There is no doubt that Stokes is one of those very commanding figures who leads people, who takes people with him.

Richard Gibson tweet
Journalist Richard Gibson, who co-wrote Stokes' book Firestarter, highlighted the improvement in the all-rounder's Test statistics in the past 18 months

He is a hard man - I wouldn't like to cross Ben Stokes - and his opponents know that too. He is never shy of a few words on the field when he is bowling.

When he does get to bowl on day three in this game, one hopes he will be awkward to face with some reverse swing.

He has not bowled yet because of his hamstring and there are not enough overs on the ball. I think we will see the ball chucked to him around lunchtime on Friday - hopefully it will reverse swing and he will be dangerous.

The way that India batted to reach 63-0 in reply to England's 537 demonstrates that it is a very good pitch to bat on.

England did not get a wicket but there were a couple of positive moments. Moeen Ali got a ball to ruffle the top of the pitch and spin sharply between bat and pad. Adil Rashid bowled a beauty of a googly to Gautam Gambhir and not many people pick his googlies. It is good - it is quite well hidden and it spins.

There are signs there that if England do get enough balls in the right place and they have a little bit of luck, they could bowl India out.

Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali
Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali both found turn from the Rajkot pitch early in India's reply

It is going to be hard work as there is very little there for the seamers at the moment. The spinners have got to build some pressure without giving too many runs away. They went for five an over in Bangladesh and they simply cannot afford to do that here.

If they can get one or two early wickets, that will hopefully make India more wary and it will do the confidence of the spinners a lot of good.

It is only a week on Sunday since England were bowled out in a session in Bangladesh and everyone was thinking 'what on earth are they going to do against India?' Well, they had some luck with the toss and those three catches that went down early in England's innings, but they have managed to capitalise on that.

It has gone well so far but it is only two days out of 25 in this series and there is an awful long way to go.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Alan Jewell.

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC