Ian Botham in 1981, Andrew Flintoff in 2005 and in 2019, we have seen Benjamin Andrew Stokes carry on their rich legacy. The summer of 2019 shall always be remembered fondly for the carpe diem of Ben Stokes for cricket fans at large and for the English fans specifically. After his World Cup heroics, Stokes, who regained the England vice-captaincy in Test cricket, had just one aim – to win The Ashes for his side – a series he missed in 2017 Down Under due to some unfortunate incidents at a Bristol club.
Some sink further when in trouble, while, some rise from the ashes. Stokes ever since his return has been calm, composed and has shown immense responsibility. He did so even in the 2nd Test at Lord’s when the team needed to force the issue to level the series with a fine century and now at Headingley, from being 2 off 50, 3 off 73, he has gone on to play one of the finest innings in Test history.
What stood out from Stokes was the composed manner in which he went about his business. There was never any sort of emotion from him when a wicket fell or when the bowler got the better of him or even when he reached personal milestones. He soaked in all the pressure, put away poor deliveries and his monk-like approach is something nobody has ever seen before. He saved it for the perfect day and situation. The Ashes was at stake and now the series remains wide open.
Stokes barely put a foot wrong. In fact, he had the least false shot percentage in the match, left alone nearly 20% of his deliveries and made good connection with the ball better than any player from the top-order in the entire match.
Pressure is something that can never be measured by numbers. Being in a crunch situation in a World Cup final not too long ago would have certainly helped. Like at Headingley, he came in at No. 5 in a tough situation and with the weight of expectations of the entire nation on his shoulders. He did not disappoint.
Recently Kusal Perera played a similar knock against South Africa at Durban earlier this year, where he stood firm despite everything happening at the other end. Both put up record-breaking 10th wicket partnerships and we usually see such heroic feats once in a lifetime. But amazingly we have witnessed similar feats twice in a matter of months.
Perera’s innings was touted to be the best Test innings ever, but now that feat faces stiff competition following Stokes’ 135 not out. There were risks involved. Chasing 250-plus in the fourth innings is never easy. But fortunately for England, the swing and seam movement on the fourth day, was perhaps the least in the entire Test. With the fast bowlers unable to do much, it sort of negated Australia’s strengths. Eventually, it came down to poor shot selection from England and a moment of madness between Stokes and Jos Buttler, that resulted in the latter running himself out, which almost led to their downfall.
With 72 still needed with one wicket to spare, it was still Australia’s game. One could sense the big hits were coming as soon as Stokes changed his bat, which looked a little meatier. The six off Nathan Lyon, when he reverse swept the ball without changing his grip, and a couple of overs later when he deposited a low full-toss from Josh Hazlewood over the square leg boundary were some of the highlights in the latter stages. But all of this could have been undone by one mistake. One moment of madness from either him or his partner and all of Stokes’ blood and sweat would have counted for nothing.
That moment came off the final ball of the 125th over, when Lyon had Stokes plumb in front when he missed a sweep with two runs to get. However, with no reviews left, Australia had no other choice but to accept the decision and move ahead. That stroke of luck was good enough as Stokes and England went on to script history.
Before The Ashes, the ICC introduced the World Test Championships (WTC) to bring more context to bilateral Test series. For more than a hundred years The Ashes has never needed any sort of ‘context’.
Before The Ashes, we are often asked to list out iconic matches or moments. Now Headingley 2019 will be mentioned in the same breath as Edgbaston 2005 or even Headingley 1981. As far as this series is concerned, the Urn could very well be on its way back too.