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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Ben's Master St(r)okes leads astonishing win at Leeds

How good is your Cricket memory - Do you remember Apr 3, 2016 ?

This Ashes has already given some very tense moments – including injury to Steve Smith and hit great batting performances after making comeback after ball-tampering ban.  In the third test at Headingley, Leeds – Australia started on top with 1-0 lead.  Josh Hazelwood bowled splendidly to bowl England out for a paltry 67 with figures of 5 for 30 and 4 for 85 in the second. Yet something went wrong !

England touched nadir with 67, was criticized by all and sundry and started its 4th innings gloomily – set  359 to win, England lost wickets regularly throughout an intensely dramatic final day, against an increasingly confident Australia team who would have retained the Ashes with a win here. Home fans had dared to dream at times during a dramatic fourth day. At 156 for three overnight, needing 203 more to win, England had a glimmer of hope, although facing off-spinner Lyon on an increasingly worn pitch was a worrying prospect.  By and large, Cricket pundits applaud Aussie brain for setting up victories, for strategizing opponents out and not leaving anything for the tail-enders.

Matthew Jack Leach of   Taunton, Somerset would remember this match forever.  He scored a solitary run but most importantly remained not out facing 17 deliveries, 60 minutes and was involved in that last wicket partnership of 76.  It is not the highest for X wicket in Cricket history – there are 20 odd scores of 100+.. .. but a once-in-a-lifetime innings from Ben Stokes, who added 76 for the last wicket with Jack Leach, gave England an amazing victory that kept the Ashes alive.

Astonishing Ben   Stokes finished with 135 not out from 219 balls, with 11 fours and nine sixes. At one stage he was three not out from 73 balls. He played with such intelligence, patience and flexibility. And then, when time was running out, he went nuclear. Stokes described Jack Leach as the "super night watchman" but admitted the nerves and pressure started to get to him as the target crept closer.  "We have managed to keep our hopes alive and hopefully take that momentum into Manchester.  Test captain Root described it as an "outrageous batting" performance and said: "To try and sum it up in words is pretty much impossible. "The courage and belief in his own ability is fantastic."

Yes it was courage and belief and it came from no-where zone ! – the scorecard reads :  England 67 (Hazlewood 5-30) and 362 for 9 (Stokes 135*, Root 77, Denly 50) beat Australia 179 (Labuschagne 74, Warner 61, Archer 6-45) and 246 (Labuschagne 80, Stokes 3-56) beat by one wicket   .. .. but scorecard is never going to state the improbabilities.  A day that began full of possibility flipped and flopped and flipped again on the balance of probablility and ended with an air of impossibility as England kept the Ashes alive, thanks to that great knock,  match-winning century and beyond by  Ben Stokes. Stokes' unbeaten 135 handed England the most unlikely of victories, by one wicket, in the third Test at Headingley, allowing them to level the series at 1-1.

The hosts had dared to dream when they resumed on a hot summer's day at 156 for 3 with Joe Root unbeaten on 75 and Stokes locked and loaded having faced 50 balls for his 2 not out.   Australia's attack, while frustrated on the third afternoon, had kept the pressure on and, with the second new ball due after eight overs on day four, England faced a big task just to navigate the morning, let alone chase down the target. That became even more unlikely when Root fell, having added just two runs, to a brilliant slips catch from David Warner - his sixth of the match - off the bowling of Nathan Lyon in the sixth over of the day. Stokes and Jonny Bairstow swung the probability back in England's favour with a defiant, and threatening, 86-run partnership. Their union was broken when Bairstow, on 36, attempted to cut Josh Hazlewood but guided the ball to Marnus Labuschagne at second slip.

Stokes' knock  included 11 fours and eight sixes, led England to their highest successful run chase in Test history after they had been bowled out for 67 in their first innings.  Ben  farmed the strike expertly and England No. 10 Jack Leach deserved huge plaudits for holding his nerve in a 76-run partnership with Stokes off 62 balls, to which Leach contributed 1 off 17. Numerous times Australia threatened to take the final wicket they needed for a victory that had seemed inevitable, only to fluff their lines repeatedly.

Finally,  Leach levelled the scores with a single off Pat Cummins and Stokes brought up the win on the next ball, flaying Cummins through the covers to the boundary, letting  out an almighty roar, arms outstretched as Leach ran to embrace him like the saviour he was.  The fall of wickets portray the story. 1-15 (Rory Burns, 5.6 ov), 2-15 (Jason Roy, 6.3 ov), 3-141 (Joe Denly, 59.3 ov), 4-159 (Joe Root, 77.3 ov), 5-245 (Jonny Bairstow, 99.1 ov), 6-253 (Jos Buttler, 102.2 ov), 7-261 (Chris Woakes, 105.6 ov), 8-286 (Jofra Archer, 114.6 ov), 9-286 (Stuart Broad, 115.2 ov).. .. and 76 runs there after as  Stokes went on the offensive. One Josh Hazlewood over went for 19 before he was swiftly taken out of the attack, with Stokes striking the ball beautifully to all parts of the ground.

Towards the end  Stokes chopped the ball to backward point and again changed his mind about a single, Lyon fumbled a straightforward chance to run a helpless Leach out at the bowler’s end.  Then, with Australia having just wasted their review for a hopeless LBW appeal against Leach, Lyon trapped a sweeping Stokes in front of the stumps.  It was Umpire Joel Wilson - a new addition to the ICC’s elite panel, who has had a record eight decisions overturned.  Only recently at Edgbaston, he was so criticized for poor decisions that some disgruntled element altered his Wikipedia page .. .. the same Wilson was in thick of action – a blunder in not giving Ben Stokes out LBW.  The replays clearly showed that a successful review would have ended the contest but Tim Paine had already ruined Aussie’s chance !

Fittingly, it was left to the masterful Stokes to crunch a four through the off side and confirm England’s heroic, historic success.  Twitter reacted wildly against Joel Wilson and .. .. Stokes wonder after the fall of 9th wicket -  6, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 6, 0, 0, 0, 6, 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 6, 2, 1, 4, 6, 6, 2, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 4, 4, 1, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 0, 4 - 74 runs from 42 balls  .. and in case you still remember Apr 3, 2016 - Set 156 to beat England and win the championship T20 finals  West Indies found themselves needing 19 off the last over, to be bowled by Ben Stokes. Marlon Samuels, who had steered the chase, was on 85. But he was at the wrong end. This was all down to Carlos Brathwaite, the allrounder who emerged on the Test tour of Australia just a few months ago.  Ben Stokes was the bowler – 6,6,6,6 and match over with 2 balls to spare.  The first one was a poor ball from Stokes, down leg, clubbed over deep backward square. Then a length ball slammed down the ground over long-on. Then over long-off. One run needed.  Why bother when you have the power, like Brathwaite, to crunch another six over the leg side. The West Indies players streamed onto the field in jubilation.  Ben Stokes was on the ground, humiliated .. .. ..

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
25th Aug 2019.

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