Arise, Sir Ben.
How many more times will we hear that before the summer is out? What more could this man possibly have up his sleeve? Perhaps he’ll take it upon himself to score a hundred in each remaining innings, run through the entire Aussie batting lineup himself, and take a few blinders at gully along the way. He could leave it to someone else, but that’s not really his style.
It’s still hard to believe that England have actually won that game. 67 all out loses you Test matches, it’s as simple as that. This was a 1% result – one of the rare times a ‘what if’ moment really happens. Ben Stokes’ innings should go down in history as one of the best, if not the best, ever. It involved 135 runs, 219 balls, 8 sixes, and a 76-run partnership with England’s other batting hero, Jack Leach, who contributed the greatest 1* you will ever see.
Anyone who thinks Test cricket is boring needs to have a long, hard look at themselves, then watch the Headingley ’19 highlights. If you can’t get excited by that, you’re not wired right. We can all add this Test to the long list of generation-inspiring moments from this summer, and who’s to say that this will be the last of them?
Simply the best
Just in case anyone was in any doubt – Ben Stokes is the best all-rounder in the world. He proved that over the course of the weekend, and not just by playing the innings of his life. He bowled for an entire session on Saturday as he attempted to heave England back into the Ashes. He flies around in the field, and is currently also vice-captain; if this were Under-11 cricket, he’d be asked kindly to ‘let someone else have a go’. The switch-hit off Lyon, the club down the ground off Cummins, and the 19-strong over off Hazlewood all served as reminders that this guy is a freak. We’ve used that word a few times in recent series to describe a couple of other players, but had Ben Stokes turned green and burst out of his playing whites on Sunday, we’d all probably have just accepted it.
A word on Jack Leach, too. Stokes would have been left stranded had the spectacled Somerset spinner not stood up so resolutely in the face of the Aussie quicks. Rarely did he look anything short of solid (his scamper halfway down the pitch notwithstanding), as he facilitated Stokes’ heroics. He’s even secured himself a lifetime supply of Specsavers glasses, thanks to his batting partner’s antics on Twitter on the evening of the victory!
Poetry in motion
So much about Sunday’s events was straight out of a Hollywood script: Jack Leach remained defiantly unmoved as he wiped his glasses clean between balls, Nathan Lyon’s fumble with 2 to win may as well have been set to the Titanic music (does anyone want to have a go at that?), and the crowd rising as one as Stokes punched the air was the money shot filmmakers can only dream of.
The parallels between this match and the other classics are plain for all to see. Obvious comparisons with Botham will be drawn, given the venue and the kind of player Stokes is, but there was so much else going on here. Marcus Harris’ drop was almost a shot-for-shot remake of Simon Jones’ in ’05, while Jack Leach’s efforts evoked memories of Anderson, Panesar, and even maybe David Steele. A few people have also expressed their delight over Nathan Lyon’s misfortunes – not only was his LBW shout not given following a wasted review, but he fumbled the ball with Jack Leach miles short of his ground when England still required 2. It wasn’t so long ago that he spoke of his desire to end careers, a comment that has resurfaced somewhat over the past few days. Did he ‘drop the Ashes’ on Sunday afternoon? Only time will tell.
Where to now?
There is little point in trying to correctly predict how the rest of this Ashes series will unfold. England need at least a win and a draw if they’re going to regain the urn and, for the sake of everyone’s blood pressure, it would be nice to see a somewhat more routine victory at Old Trafford.
If England are able to put together some more complete batting displays, they will be in with an excellent chance. The bowlers’ ability to take 20 wickets during this series has never really been questioned – it will be interesting to see whether there’s a spot for Jimmy Anderson for the last two Tests, depending on how fit the management team deem him. He would logically come in for Chris Woakes, but the Brummy Botham’s ability with the bat makes him an exceptionally useful asset. You would think that the greatest seam bowler of all time would be a shoo-in, so the fact that we’re even questioning his inclusion points to the strength of England’s bowling.
England’s batsmen need to take inspiration from the second innings at Headingley. Sure, Stokes won them that game, but a number of them played exactly the sort of innings we’ve been looking for since the start of the series. Denly and Root put together an extremely useful partnership, while Burns and Bairstow have also shown promising signs at different points in this series. There was more than enough to encourage us for the rest of the series, and we’ve got the low score out of the way now – it’s hard to see something quite so dramatic happening again …
The wider context
It was one thing to have the general public invested in England’s white-ball ventures, but it seems likely that they will now also be paying far more attention to the game’s best format. Test cricket, as we all saw at the weekend, is simply the pinnacle of our game. The ups and downs, the blows and counterblows can scarcely be matched by any other sport and the more people that get to see that, the better.The memories of Sunday will last a lifetime for our members fortunate enough to witness everything unfold at Headingley. Become a member of the Barmy Army now to secure your tickets for the coming Tests!
Here’s to another two thrilling Ashes Tests, two England victories, and a perfect end to the perfect summer.