Cricket

Ashes 2019: Audacious Ben Stokes produces historic innings at Headingley to reassert his boundless capabilities

Ben Stokes finish unbeaten on 135 — England's record fourth innings chase brought home on his back — thanks to him the series still alive and the world no closer to knowing just exactly what it is that Stokes can't do.

Ashes 2019: Audacious Ben Stokes produces historic innings at Headingley to reassert his boundless capabilities

Ben Stokes you cannot do that.

When the moment comes, he knows before the crowd, punching the air in delight the instant he completes his follow through, the ball that he has flayed through the covers racing to the boundary, as a split-second later the whole of Headingley leap to their feet in roaring approval.

There is a pocket of supporters — behind deep point as Stokes plays the shot — all dressed in green shirts with yellow caps, who perhaps are not quite so delighted, but even they can console themselves with the knowledge that they have just witnessed arguably the finest innings Test cricket has ever seen.

England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds. AP

England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds. AP

Minutes later as some of the spectators begin to pour out of the ground scarcely able to believe what they have just watched, one is simply shouting "We were there, we were there!" to any and all who walk past him on the Kirkstall Lane pavement — the shock of the day's events only just starting to sink in.

This is the summer of Stokes — in his prime like Optimus — barely a month from dragging England over the line in the World Cup final, here he was in Leeds casually relegating Headingley 1981 to second place in the ground's list of great matches, playing the roles of both Willis and Botham in the process.

At 3:17pm Jack Leach strode to the crease, England nine wickets down, a chasm of 73 runs between them and their victory target, and then in the hour that followed, somehow Stokes found the path across, dragging his team away from the abyss and improbably keeping the Ashes alive in the process.

Leach might have thought the 92 he made against Ireland earlier in the summer was the best Test innings he would ever play, but in years to come this will almost certainly rank as his favourite, even if he spent most of it cleaning the steam off his glasses.

But in between those iconic moments of eyewear maintenance, Australia's snarling attack was repelled, 17 vital deliveries faced, the last of them a single tucked off his hip. It was his only run of the innings but the one that drew England level — a moment he re-lived for his teammates hours later on the square as they celebrated their improbable victory, and one that you imagine he will dine out on for the rest of his life.

This though was really all about Stokes, two days on from his remarkable, vital spell of 16 consecutive 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 had made just three off 73 balls, a strike rate of under five — to the counter attack with Jonny Bairstow, and then the explosive, otherworldly finale — that 10th wicket partnership of 76, in which 74 came from his bat and from just 44 balls.

This was a match littered with the extraordinary. It would seem difficult to comprehend that that final defiant stand totalled nine more runs than England mustered in the whole of their first innings but when you've seen a man switch-hit Nathan Lyon deep into the stands for six or bring up a remarkable hundred without so much as even acknowledging it — considering it meaningless without victory achieved — before promptly hitting the previously-impeccable Josh Hazelwood into the stands for two consecutive sixes, then the bounds of plausibility are considerably stretched.

In total he struck eight sixes, eclipsing Kevin Pietersen's record for an Ashes innings set all those years ago on another remarkable late summer afternoon in 2005.

He would finish unbeaten on 135 — England's record fourth innings chase brought home on his back — thanks to him the series is still alive and the world is no closer to knowing just exactly what it is that Stokes can't do.

Updated Date: August 26, 2019 09:42:45 IST

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