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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Headingley Marvel to Fastest 250: A look at Ben Stokes’ five career-defining knocks

Often touted as the bad boy of cricket for his off-the-field behaviour, Ben Stokes' story is one worthy of bold headlines and songs of redemption.

By: Sports Desk | June 4, 2020 5:32:14 pm
ben stokes, ashes, england win, england ashes, england australia, ben stokes, stokes, ashes pictures, ashes gallery Ben Stokes and Jack Leach celebrate winning the Headingley Test (Source: Reuters)

Born on June 4, 1991, at Christchurch, Canterbury in New Zealand, Ben Stokes is one of the most impactful all-rounders to ever play the game of cricket. The English all-rounder has been compared to Ian Botham for his performances since August 25, 2011, when he made his international debut. Often touted as the bad boy of cricket for his off-the-field behaviour, Stokes’ story is one worthy of bold headlines and songs of redemption.

On his 29th birthday, let’s take a look at Stokes’ five game-changing innings in international cricket:

A young Stokes takes on Perth challenge

This was Stokes’ debut Test tour and his second appearance in the longest format. The all-rounder had not made much impact on his debut, scoring just 29 runs from two innings. The first innings of his second Test wasn’t impressive either, as he scored just 18 runs. The Michael Clarke-led Australian side piled on runs in their second innings, setting a target of 504 on the board. In reply, the English top order failed to put up a fight, with Alastair Cook getting bowled by a peach of a delivery from Ryan Harris. Opener Michael Carberry, Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen got good starts but failed to capitalise on them as England were reduced to 121/4.

In came a 22-year-old Stokes at No.6. An under-pressure Stokes hit the menacing Mitchell Johnson for a straight drive, pulled the short ball with conviction, advanced down the track to Nathan Lyon and played a few instinctive shots to hit 18 fours and one six in his innings. Stokes’ stay at the crease made Australia nervous at the WACA. At 336 for 6 and having scored his maiden Ashes Test century, the England dressing room would have been hoping for a close game in the mammoth run chase. However, the target was too much of an ask for the youngster. He got out after scoring 120, announcing himself in the scorching heat of Perth even though England lost the match by 150 runs.

The fastest at Lord’s 

Stokes could not achieve the three-figure mark in the first innings in this Test, as he got out after scoring 92, but he made sure to score the quickest century at the ‘Home of Cricket’ in the second. Even in first innings, when Stokes walked in to bat with England down to 30/4, his partnership with Joe Root helped the hosts post 389 after a top order collapse. Stokes scored 92 off just 95 deliveries, including 15 fours and one six. The pressure in the second innings was more, as Brendon McCullum-led New Zealand had scored 523 in their first innings.

In the second innings as well, England did not get off to a good start, losing two wickets early on. But skipper Alastair Cook and Root put England in a good position. Stokes walked in to bat when England were 232/4, a better situation to bat than the first innings. Stokes let his attacking instinct take over as he took on the Kiwi fast bowlers Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Tim Southee. His first boundary came off an edge that went past the slips. The ones that followed were more convincing. Stokes punished the Kiwi bowlers for bowling short to him. He reached his century in 85 deliveries, the fastest at Lord’s, surpassing former Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin’s record of 87 deliveries. It was also the fastest Test century by an Englishman in 113 years.

Stokes backed up his stellar batting performance with his bowling as well, taking three wickets, including Kane Williamson and McCullum. England won the match by 124 runs.

Fastest again: Stokes surpasses Sehwag

Even though this match ended in a draw, Ben Stokes played one of the most memorable innings of his career. England were 167/4 on a batting-friendly wicket at Cape Town. The visitors needed a big first innings total to dominate the Hashim Amla-led South African side. Once again, Stokes let his attacking instinct take over, telling reporters post his maiden 250 that he was in a “see the ball, hit the ball” mode.

Amla had three slips in place for him. Stokes took his time early on as he took 70 deliveries to reach his half-century. Once set, the field setting did not matter to the all-rounder as he threw the kitchen sink at everything. He reached three figures off the next 35 deliveries. Stokes did not lift his foot off the gas pedal after that. He played reverse sweeps, big shots down the ground off the spinners. He reached the double century-mark in 163 deliveries, 58 more after reaching the century. He kept toying with the bowlers some more to reach his 250 from 196 deliveries, surpassing Virender Sehwag. He also hit 11 sixes in his record-breaking innings, the most by an Englishman in a Test innings. He got run out for 258 after sharing a 399-run partnership with Jonny Bairstow, the highest for the sixth wicket in Test cricket.

Stroke of luck with a blend of grit

Going down in the history books as one of the best innings in a World Cup game, Stokes showed nerves of steel to take England to their first title win. Chasing a total of 242, England lost four wickets for 83 runs. Kiwi bowlers kept the pressure on in the middle overs but the fifth-wicket partnership between Jos Buttler and Stokes brought the hosts back in the game. After Buttler’s wicket, it was Stokes who took on the mantle to do the bulk of the scoring.

Despite wickets falling at the other end, Stokes’ timely strikes kept England in the hunt. With 15 runs needed in the last over, Stokes managed to tie the match with a stroke of luck. He remained unbeaten for 84. In the super over as well, he scored eight runs out of a team total of 15. Stokes, the villain of the 2016 T20 World Cup final, redeemed himself in the best way possible by helping England lift the World Cup trophy in their own backyard.

The Headingley Marvel

Once again, Stokes stood up when the chips were down. England had a forgettable day with the bat as they were bundled out for 67 by Australia in their first innings. In the fourth innings, England needed to chase 359 to win the Test and keep the Ashes alive. Half-centuries from Joe Denly and skipper Root gave English a ray of hope but their wickets left the run chase in disarray.

Often too attacking in his approach, Stokes was extra cautious against the Aussie bowling attack. It was when England lost too many wickets that Stokes took charge of the run chase. It was one of the finest displays of red-ball hitting for the Headingley crowd that still chose to back their team after a string of setbacks. When England were down to the last wicket, Stokes hammered Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood for sixes or hit Lyon for a huge six with a reverse sweep. He even played a scoop shot off Cummins, a rare shot in Test cricket.

Once again, Stokes was lucky when he was dropped by Marcus Harris and given not out after Lyon trapped him in front of the wickets. The all-rounder finished the match with a boundary off Cummins to guide England to a one-wicket win with his 135-run knock off 219 deliveries, including 11 fours and eight sixes.

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