NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Fourth months after splashing out $1.97 million to secure the services of Ben Stokes, Rajasthan Royals cannot be faulted for regretting the splurge as they struggle to stay afloat in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL).
Stokes, then with Rising Pune Supergiant, set alight last year’s tournament with his scintillating batting, crafty bowling and electric fielding, making him the obvious choice for the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) honour.
England and world cricket’s premier all-rounder’s Midas touch has deserted him since joining Rajasthan, however, with the 26-year-old still looking for his first fifty in this year’s tournament, while the wickets have also dried up.
But it may still not to be too late for Stokes, according to England team mate Chris Woakes.
“He is a world class player,” Woakes, who is among a dozen English players in this year’s IPL, told reporters on Friday.
“Probably has not played as well as he would have liked throughout the tournament but I never write him off.
“Still four games left and more if they qualify. He’s a fantastic player. If you slip off your game against him, he will punish you,” the Royal Challengers Bangalore player added.
Stokes did suffer a setback off the pitch when he was charged with affray following an incident in Bristol last September, costing him a place on England’s Ashes tour of Australia.
The player has pleaded not guilty and will face trial in August.
Hoping to help Stokes rediscover his best form, Rajasthan tried the middle-order batsman as an opener in Friday’s match against Chennai Super Kings but the all-rounder made just 11 before losing his middle stump to Harbhajan Singh.
However, Rajasthan and England team mate Jos Buttler said the switch in order was primarily due to a hamstring issue.
“(Rajasthan mentor) Shane Warne sort of said ‘why don’t you go at the top and play with some freedom and try and see if that comes off’ because he felt like he was going to find it hard in the middle with his running,” explained Buttler.
Bought at a relatively modest $680,000, Buttler has provided better value for money for Rajasthan, the wicketkeeper-batsman hitting his fourth consecutive half-century on Friday to keep the side alive in the playoff race.
Opening the innings with Stokes, Buttler went on to smash an unbeaten 95 to anchor Rajasthan’s chase in Jaipur against IPL heavyweights Chennai.
Asked if it was his best Twenty20 knock, the 27-year-old said, “Definitely, especially in the IPL. I have hit my straps and it’s always special when you’re not out.”
Rajasthan, currently sixth in the eight-team league, visit Mumbai Indians on Sunday.
Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O'Brien