Ben Stokes had already heard his name mentioned in the same breath as those other powerfully-built all-rounders, Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff. But he could not have expected to see it appear in the same sentence as Gary Sobers.
Sir Garfield remains the only player to hit six sixes in an over in a first-class match in Britain. As he achieved the feat off the bowling of Glamorgan’s Malcolm Nash at Swansea in 1968, it has yet to happen on English soil.
At 19, Stokes was therefore on the threshold of a place in the history books when he cleared the Rose Bowl ropes off the first five balls of a Liam Dawson over. But the final one was speared into his pads.
Stokes launched his onslaught immediately after completing a 135-ball century in the opening round of the County Championship, which included just the one six, a huge straight drive off Danny Briggs.
The first of the five off Dawson sailed serenely over mid-wicket, the second was clubbed straight, the third was swept behind square and the last two flew almost into the stratosphere, clearing ten rows of tiered seating into the car park between long-on and mid-wicket.
When Stokes scored 162 not out at Canterbury just before his 19th birthday last May, Kent captain Rob Key said he was the best young batsman he had seen. Durham also knew he was a bowler in the Flintoff mould, capable of using his broad shoulders to generate deceptive pace.
An ankle problem restricted his bowling last season, when his best figures were two for 32 at home to Hampshire in April. And what is described in the modern parlance as an “impingement” in the ankle prevented him from bowling more than a few overs for England Lions in the winter.
So he first raised eyebrows on his red letter day at the Rose Bowl by taking three wickets in an over to end Hampshire’s first innings and finish with six for 68. He was clutching that ball, rather than the one he hit for five sixes, when he spoke to the media afterwards.
But other than admitting he “could not have asked for anything better” there was no sign of him getting carried away. “Once I’d hit that first six I thought I would just keep trying to hit them,” he said. “I was always going to go down the wicket to the last ball, but he bowled it very well. It was quicker and down the leg side, so I couldn’t do anything with it.”
Stokes said he had yet to ring his home in Cumbria, but he knew that his mother would have followed every ball. His father, Ged, a former New Zealand Rugby League international, is currently out of work after coaching Workington, Whitehaven and the Serbian national team.
“If it weren’t for my cricket we would probably have gone back to New Zealand,” admitted Stokes, who spent his first 12 years in Christchurch. “Durham had an email asking if I’d be interested in playing club cricket over there but the New Zealand authorities know I want to play for England.”
Stokes felt the winter work he had done on his bowling in the nets with Kevin Shine had been very beneficial. “We worked on the alignment of my body and it has given me more control. I definitely feel I can contribute more with the ball this season,” he added.