Nine days – That’s all we have to cherish. On 4th September, Wednesday, you’ll be unable to write on Ben Stokes as the focus will once again shift to ongoing Ashes series. These nine days are all you have to toast the man behind reincarnation of Test cricket. But what willyou write about? Whatever you write, make sure it’s nothing less than what the gentleman deserves.
An innings that unfolded the classic folktales of Ian Botham’s Headingley innings. Innings that took ecstasy from one camp to another. Innings that didn’t let sun to set in Great Britain. England team was bundled out for 67 in the first innings of third Test match and Australians, who were 1-0 up in the five-match Ashes series, asked the World champions to chase 359 on a sluggish track and the way three lions had featured in the Test match – it looked a lost dream until Ben Stokes scripted a stunning turnaround.
On the intensely dramatic final day of the Test match, England lost wickets at a regular interval against ‘overly’ confident Australia team who would have retained the Ashes with a win in Leeds.
When England’s last batsman, Jack Leach, joined Stokes at the crease they still required an unlikely 73 for victory. However, Stokes farmed the strike expertly with his 10th-wicket partner and struck the ball as sweetly as one could dreamt of, once finding the crowd with an outrageous reverse sweep, and on another occasion stepping outside off stump to scoop Pat Cummins to fine leg for six.
Stokes’s effort evoked memories of Ian Botham’s famous Ashes escape act with England at this very venue in 1981 and there will be discussion as to whether the modern-day all-rounder’s efforts are even more impressive.
Ben Stokes’ innings against Australia not only derived Australia’s inability to defend 359 in the fourth innings, but has put Test cricket in the best place possible. In the era of T20 cricket, Stokes played a blend of orthodox and unorthodox – while keeping his head still to smash Aussie bowlers out of the park. He kept his emotions under control and dominated the game on his terms.
Stokes managed to score his first boundary on the 75th ball he faced but yielded 48 runs from last 24 balls, striking at 200 with ease. The few scares which Josh Hazlewood did in his opening spell of the day had started to look dream with same bowler getting hit for consecutive sixes into the Western Terrace in penultimate pressure situation.
What made the innings look even more special was how he kept his partner Leach off strike. En route to eighth Test ton, Stokes made sure to have the strike on nine out of ten occasions which eventually led Leach to finish with just one run in unbeaten 76-run stand. Yes, the innings wasn’t without luck as he was out leg-before to Nathan Lyon when England still needed two runs, but Australia didn't have a review to challenge Joel Wilson's on-field call. Stokes was also dropped by Marcus Harris off Pat Cummins's bowling on 116, and not to forget disastrous run-out miss by Nathan Lyon, coming even before umpiring blooper. However, destiny favors the brave hearts and Ben Stokes genius against Australia certainly deserves it.
The winning shot from his willow through the cover region will certainly become the highlight of World Test championship one day. The urn is still alive, very much because of Ben Stokes genius. Will it be termed as greatest Test innings ever? – Well, time will tell us. But we can stamp the authority and say, ‘Not too far off’.