STOKE stokes the embers of Test cricket | Sunday Observer

STOKE stokes the embers of Test cricket

A majestic unbeaten 135 by (Sir) Benjamin Stokes the left handed New Zealand born England all rounder who deserved to be knighted, took England to a heart stopping one wicket victory over arch rivals Australia in the Third Test at Headingly on Sunday with a session and a day to spare.

When play resumed on the fourth day with England on 156 for three chasing 359 for victory, they had to win this Test to stall Australia from retaining the Ashes. When they lost Captain Joe Root early at 159 resuming on 156 for 3, for 77 the Mount Everest they had to climb looked slippery.

If England had to win then it required that one batsman play an innings as did the great former England all rounder Ian Botham did in 1981 at this same venue when he made 149 after England were asked to follow on which led England to one of their famous victories.

Probably sensing that another Botham innings was in the making in this game may have prompted a cricket fan to sport a Tee Shirt with the words printed on it which read IAN BOTHAM 149 at Headingley 1981. Stokes would probably have noticed this when walking out to bat. This may have inspired him to perform a Botham.

In that Test it would be of interest to recall that two Australians Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh had before play began wagered that, believe it or not that Australia would lose. And Australia did lose and Lillee’s and Marsh’s indiscretion wagering created a furore, but in those days match fixing was not heard of.

Back to Stokes and what an innings he played! Probably he played the innings of his life and one that he is not likely to play again. With wickets falling around him, undaunted he stood tall to blunt the Australian pace barrage fired by Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood and the biting off spin of Nathan Lyon to play a heroic innings that ended in an amazing win for his side.

England’s ninth wicket fell at 286. And in walked Jack Leach a rabbit they call number 11. They required another 73 for victory. No fan in his proper senses would have wagered on an England win, unless he was a rabid England supporter who had already drowned his sorrows!

But what followed would be a scene for Ripley’s believe it or not. With defending for dear life, Stokes believed that the impossible could be made possible if he threw caution to the winds and blasted, because it is said that those who dare win.

With the Australians throwing everything they had in an endeavour to get either Stokes or Leach out, they were frustrated as Stokes took it upon himself to be the master with Leach sticking it out like a leech sucking the blood out of the Aussies.

The blood curdling action in the closing stages was certainly not for the weak heart. With every English supporter on the ground shouting himself hoarse urging the two batsmen on, the few Aussie supporters were on the edge of their seats unable to comprehend the impending calamity.

After Stokes reached a three figure score to resounding cheers, he took the Aussie bowlers on believing that fortune favours the brave. He lofted, pulled, hooked, drove and reverse swept sixes with superb timing to take England closer to Eldorado.

The pressure and the tension were unbearable. Those watching the drama globally on TV were glued to their seats watching the exciting action unfold on the telly in the final moments. The tension also told on the Aussies and they would have won by a run had not Lyon fumbled an easy run out of Leach. Then a few balls later Lyon had Stokes sweeping and missing and plumb LBW.

The umpire turned down the deafening appeal by the Aussies. Replays showed that Stokes was out. Aussies had exhausted their reviews and like in old times the umpire’s word was law because at that time cricket was a sport.

Later Leach pushed a single to leg to tie the scores and two balls later Stokes played a brutal cover drive that screeched to the boundary to signal a victory for England and a heartbreaking loss for Australia who were near and yet so far of victory that they richly deserved.

But for us it was the game of cricket that was the victor. Both sides played the game in the true spirit facing the vicissitudes with grace which also proved that it was not the winning or the losing that mattered but how one played the game.

That England were bundled out for 67 in their first innings the lowest total since 1948, after Australia were done by some splendid vicious pace bowling by West Indian born Jofra Archer 6 for 45 for 179, it left ample time for a decision to be reached. And that’s how it ended.

It was nice to see every Australian player greeting Stokes for his gutty and majestic three figure score and showing a tired and exhausted Stokes accepting the greetings with great humility which was an example. With each team having won a match each, the remaining Two Tests are sure to be block busters. If Australia win one they will retain the Ashes in which case England will have to win both to regain the Ashes. The Second Test at Lord’s was drawn.

Stokes’ heroics with the bat also rekindled memories of what Sri Lanka’s Kusal Janith Perera, also a left hander, with a magnificent unbeaten 153 did to the much feared South African attack in a Test match in South Africa when with last man Vishva Fernando they posted a big stand to bring Sri Lanka a famous victory which also helped them win the series.

Lankans suffer bitter innings defeat

It was a re-run of what took place at the P. Sara Stadium when the New Zealanders played at that venue the last time they toured when after losing the Test in Galle, they came back to beat the hosts and square the series.

To Tim Southee and Trent Boult who played in that Test the victory would have tasted sweet. It was a spineless batting display by Sri Lanka in the second innings that led to the disgraceful defeat by an innings. The least said the better. I’d rather drown my sorrow.

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