VEDANT SHARMA | 27 AUGUST, 2019
Ben Stokes – A Player Who Redefined the Art of Success
He finished unbeaten on 135, his slowest ever
On August 25, during England’s second innings, Ben Stokes deserved all the applause, adulation, cheer, respect, and everything he got in Leeds. The innings that unfolded was like all the classic folktales around Ian Botham’s long ago innings at Headingley. Stokes’ play took agony and ecstasy from one camp to the other. It helped England stay alive in the series and Ben Stokes can now really be called one of the greatest of all time – he truly is a champion.
England were bundled out for all of 67 in the first innings of the third Ashes test, and the Australians, who were 1-0 up in the five-match series, posed 359 for the world champions to chase on a sluggish track. And the way their three lions had featured in the test so far, it looked a lost dream – until Ben Stokes scripted a stunning turnaround.
On the intensely dramatic final day of the test, England were losing wickets at regular intervals against a confident Australian team who would have retained the Ashes with a win at Leeds.
When England’s last batsman, Jack Leach, joined Stokes at the crease they still required an unlikely 73 for victory. But Stokes farmed the strike expertly with his 10th-wicket partner and struck the ball as sweetly as one could dream, finding the crowd on one occasion with an outrageous reverse sweep, and on another stepping outside off stump to scoop Pat Cummins to fine leg for six.
The 124th and 125th overs encapsulated the moment when the force was with England. Cummins was hoicked to long leg by Stokes but Marcus Harris put a tough catch down. Stokes made the Australians pay with two fours and the equation was down to under 10 with one in hand. When Stokes blasted Lyon down the ground, England needed two runs – and then two incidents took place which cost Australia dearly.
Lyon missed a run-out off Leach and then, on the very next ball, Stokes missed a sweep. Australia appealed for an LBW. Umpire Joel Wilson gave it not out and Australia had no reviews left.
The poor umpiring and Australia’s poor reviewing hit them hard. Now the test was almost gone. Leach, who had hung in dogged, nudged Cummins to square leg. The match was tied. Stokes then unleashed a vicious drive through cover, and England had achieved their highest successful run chase in test cricket.
There is a pocket of supporters — behind deep point as Stokes plays the shot — all dressed in green with yellow caps, who are not perhaps quite delighted. But even they can console themselves with the knowledge that they have just witnessed one of the finest innings test cricket has ever seen.
The third test was all about Stokes. Two days on from his remarkable, vital spell of 16 successive overs, here once again he refused to see England beaten.
It was an innings of vast range, from the indomitable defence of its early stages — at one point he was on just 3 off 73 deliveries — to unorthodox and timely hitting with Jonny Bairstow, and then the explosive fifth gear shift— that tenth wicket partnership of 76, in which 74 came off his bat and in just 44 balls.
Stokes struck eight sixes in all, eclipsing Kevin Pietersen’s record for an Ashes innings set all those years ago on another remarkable late summer afternoon.
He finished unbeaten on 135 – his slowest – as England recorded an all-important win to keep the Ashes alive. He made the world believe that Ben Stokes can do anything.
Will this test match be termed the greatest ever? – Well, time will tell. But it’s already clear that it was one of its kind.