With every switch-hit, Ben Stokes eclipsed Botham of ’81. In the process, the third Ashes Test at Headingley surpassed every match that most of us will ever see.
A display of defiance, sheer bloody-mindedness, and courage when all around him, wickets were tumbling.
Contrast all those emotions with the looks of despair on the faces of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow following their dismissals, the expressions of anguish knowing that with their walk-offs likely went England’s last hopes of staying in the series.
Contrast him too, with the brilliantly reserved, quite possibly petrified Jack Leach, wiping his glasses before facing a 90mph hurtler from Pat Cummins.
‘Redemption’ has been the theme this series. With a recovering Steve Smith watching on from the pavilion, his title has been snatched by England’s hero of the hour, Stokes’ prior misdemeanours becoming a memory more and more distant.
Some bookmakers have already stopped taking bets on the 28-year-old being named Sports Personality of the Year. This was a career-defining innings and his greatest achievement since…well, last month.
According to the ICC’s official rankings, Stokes is only the fourth highest-ranked all-rounder in Test cricket behind Jason Holder (West Indies), Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh), and Ravindra Jadeja (India).
None of those has come close to shining through in the manner that Stokes has this summer, abetted admittedly by his teammates’ ineptitude in falling to 67 all out in the first place.
It is also hard to escape the fact that Australia did not bowl well in the second innings. There is no way around that. Fate was not on their side either, and Nathan Lyon will know well he may have just fumbled away the Ashes.
That should not have been enough to hand England this lifeline, however, and only a player of the highest calibre imagined it was possible going into what turned out to be the final session.
While Jadeja can consistently control a game with the bat – by and large – and Holder is one of the most domineering physical presences around, there is nobody playing quite like Stokes at this current moment anywhere in the world.
To contextualise his form, with 35.86, he now has a higher average in this format than Andrew Flintoff, aided further of course by his 115 at Lord’s in the second Test. Only fitting then, that this man for the big occasions has been newly reinstated as vice-captain.
As well as his stunning second innings, he also took four wickets in the match, including figures of 3-56 to restrict Australia to 246 second time out. In some corner of that exuberant English dressing room, a perplexed Jofra Archer must be wondering what parallel universe exists where he can bowl like he did, take eight wickets and somehow come out of the third Test as an understudy, a small sub-plot in one of the most exhilarating narratives of all time.
England fans and former players were revelling in Stokes’ exploits – here’s some of the best reactions:
- 82 v Sri Lanka
- 89 v Australia
- 79 v India
- 84* in the CWC Final
- 15 off the Super Over
- 50 at Edgbaston
- 100 at Lord's
- 135* at Headingley
Arise, Sir Ben Stokes ð