Ben Stokes’s bat painted the Glorious English Summer of 2019

2019 English summer and Ben Stokes- it was a better love story than twilight and he turned into sort of an omnipotent force every time his team had the backs against the wall. He simply enjoyed the best time ever in his life and it all started with the mega event- the ICC Men’s ODI World Cup in England and Wales in 2019. 

World Cup 2019- The beginning of a glorious summer: 

Ben Stokes had a fantastic WC in 2019. He started with an all-round performance against the Proteas in their tournament opener at the Oval. He backed it up with important knocks against SL and Australia, albeit in a losing cause and then a match defining knock against India in a must win game to get themselves back on track at the moment when qualification chances looked to be in jeopardy for England. But these were just bits of what was about to come!!!

© - ESPNCricinfo

It all started with the gloomy day at the Lord’s on 14th July 2019. England were just one game away from reaping rich dividend for all their hard work towards the betterment of their white ball game since that horrible campaign in the 2015 World Cup Down Under. In fact, they were playing their 1st 50 over WC final ever since 1992, when Wasim Akram ripped apart through that English lineup in Melbourne.

England were set a target of 242 to make history and lift the 50 over WC for the first time ever, that too at the Home of Cricket in front of a passionate home crowd. But with the slow nature of the pitch and the Kiwi attack which defended a similar total three days back against a well-confident Indian lineup- things were definitely not going to be facile for Morgan’s men.

And it was just the first ball of the innings and boom!!! Trent Boult bowled a beauty- a brilliant inswinger, pitched on length shaping back in to get Roy trapped and it was only the on-field umpire’s not out decision that saved Roy, who found it to be umpire’s call via DRS.

After a few boundaries here and there, Matt Henry struck, making Roy edge behind to Latham. At this point, Kane Williamson played a masterstroke in bowling out de Grandhomme for 10 consecutive overs, wherein he conceded a mere 25 runs and scalped the priced wicket of Joe Root. To add to England’s misery, Ferguson and Neesham dismissed Bairstow and Morgan in quick succession and England found themselves in a tricky situation at 86/4 at almost the halfway mark, when Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes joined hands. 

Buttler played a game changing innings of 59 off 60 on a pitch where almost everyone else struggled to get going and got England back into the game. But Stokes was doing the harder job of grinding in and ensuring that he would stay on till the end and see the chase off. But once Buttler was dismissed courtesy a superb catch from the substitute fielder Tim Southee, things started becoming more and more complex for the Brits.

And then, Stokes surely had his heart in his mouth for a moment when he slog swept a length delivery from Neesham towards wide long on and Trent Boult patrolling those high traffic areas, kept his calm to almost grab a fantastic catch and seal England’s chances of winning the match (22 were required off 9 balls before that delivery). But, ……… he just stepped on the boundary line with the ball in his hand and Stokes had a stroke of fortune.

It all came down to the last over. The whole of Lord’s was tensed as Ian Smith was shouting out his voice in the commentary box and Ben Stokes- he knew he had a chance to be a hero after what had happened in Bristol back in 2017. 

First two balls, he tried to hit over cover but just failed to do so as Boult kept on nailing those wide yorkers with utmost accuracy and it came down to 15 off 4. The game was just slipping out of England’s hands and Stokes knew he had to do something different. Next ball, Trent Boult bowls a length delivery and Stokes just plays an astonishing slog sweep against a premium fast bowler for a six over deep mid-wicket. 

Stokes and the philosophy of playing smart cricket:

Now it’s 9 off 3!!! If it has to be someone, it has to be BA Stokes!!! Boult bowls a full toss and Stokes hits it towards deep mid-wicket and the fielder throws it towards the keeper’s end. And as Stokes puts in a full-length dive, the ball gets deflected on striking his bat and runs away for a boundary. It was a 6!!!(Actually, it should have been a 5, but in the heat of the moment, the umpires missed out on checking the point of time when the batsmen crossed). 

© - Amos Murphy

Stokes just put up his hands in apology and disbelief. But he has been part of something very special. Something you don’t get to see quite often. Can he help his team after this final share of luck?

The next two balls, Stokes managed to pick up singles as his partners got runout at the non-striker’s end both times. (Stokes would have been out had the fielder thrown the ball at the keeper’s end in the penultimate delivery.) Yaa, he hasn’t been able to see off his team, but he has made sure they don’t lose. And now he was again going to bat in the Super Over.

Stokes was already tired and on his haunches for quite a few times. But such is the dedication of this man, that he was not going to give up. He got another 8 runs off 3 balls in the Super Over, batting with another hero of that day, Jos Buttler as England went on to post 15. NZ were going to win the WC only if they could score 16 as a draw would have meant an England victory with boundary count being the then ICC rule of deciding the victorious team in case of a Super Over tie.

Jofra Archer was handed the onerous task of bowling the Super Over and it came down to 2 off 1. Guptill whipped it towards deep square and Roy keeping his nerves calm, throws it down to Buttler at the keeper’s end who dived across to light up the stumps and the faces of thousands of English fans across the stadium and the nation. Yes, they have won the ODI WC for the first time ever and their transition in white ball cricket has reaped rewards. 'England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins, by the barest of all margins. Absolute ecstasy for England; agony agony for New Zealand!!!' These words from Ian Smith, the Kiwi commentator echo through every nook and corner of the Lord’s stadium till date and would continue to do so in the coming days….

© - ESPNcricinfo

Yes, there was a wrong decision, a dropped catch, Buttler’s knock, Archer’s Super Over – but deep down this final belonged to Ben Stokes and he was the center of all attraction. He had come a long way since being hit for 4 sixes in the final over of that T20 WC final in Kolkata back in 2016.

A knock for the ages!!! A man with incredible dedication and determination fighting against all odds and fulfilling the dream of an entire nation with all his might!!!

But this was not going to be the end of Stokes’ golden summer. The Ashes was already knocking at the door and little did he know that he was going to find himself in a pretty similar situation in just a month’s time.

The Ashes 2019- Stokes kept the series alive:

The Ashes – one of the oldest rivalries between two extremely competitive cricketing nations took centerstage at Edgbaston, which England had almost made a fortress. Steve Smith, who was making a comeback to test cricket after serving a one-year ban since that sandpaper saga at Newlands in March 2018 played incredibly well, hitting twin hundreds amidst severe booing from a belligerent English crowd.

The 2nd match was played at Lord’s – the venue where Stokes played one of his finest ever white ball knocks a month back. This test match would be remembered for the tooth and nail fight between the express pace of Jofra Archer and the grit and determination of the genius, Steve Smith. And then the introduction of Marnus Labuschagne as a concussion substitute in the 2nd innings, who started his new journey as a middle order batter and went on to earn the number one rank two years later. But amidst all this, Stokes smashed a brilliant 115*(165) in the 2nd innings, although Australia managed to draw the game.

Australia were 1-0 up in the series with 3 games to go and the action shifted to Headingley, the ground where Ian Botham and Bob Willis had scripted a brilliant turnaround in the 1981 Ashes to win that match by 18 runs and eventually went on to win the series. 38 years later, another brilliant all-rounder playing for the same country was about to script something special.

England won the toss and opted to bowl first under cloudy skies. Jofra Archer bowled a brilliant spell and picked up a six-for in only his 2nd test. And despite Warner and Labuschagne registering individual fifties, the Aussies were all out at 179. 

Day 2 started with England coming out to bat. They were surely expecting to enjoy a big 1st innings lead after bowling pretty well the previous day. But little did they know that what awaited them was 1 hour of horror show. Josh Hazlewood bowled superb lines and lengths and picked up 5 for just 30 runs. The Aussies eventually bowled out England for just 67 runs. This was definitely a shame for all the players and even for Stokes, who got out playing an atrocious shot, as he slashed hard at an eighth stump ball and just couldn't take control!!!

Being already 1-0 down after 2 tests, this was simply an unacceptable performance. Australia had a comparably better 2nd innings and went on to score 246. Stokes picked up 3 but England were set a daunting target of 359 to win in the 4th innings. It looked like an improbable task against the Aussie attack comprising of Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson, and Lyon.

Root and Denly stabilized the innings after 2 quick wickets at the top. But once those departed, the drama started to unfold. Bairstow departed for 36 and then Buttler got run out, owing to a serious misunderstanding between him and Stokes. Soon Woakes was scalped by Hazlewood and Jofra Archer perished in his quest to bag a few quick runs. And then Broad was pinned on the crease by James Pattinson which meant England now needed 73 runs from the last wicket to level the series. The Aussies had their tail up and Jack Leach walked out as the last man to assist Stokes. Till then Stokes had shown appreciable patience, grit and composure. But he knew now he had to change gears.

And it started!!! He started hitting shots all over the park. He slogged Nathan Lyon straight over his head and then even played a switch hit for six. That was some shot against a quality spinner like Nathan Lyon!! This was a man who was high on confidence. He was not even afraid of taking over the imposing fielders. But the bigger thing was that he was pretty sensible and intelligent in rotating the strike at the right points and was ably supported by Jack Leach who had some mannerisms on display, wiping his glasses and delaying things a bit amidst all the tension that was brewing.

It's not over until Ben Stokes is in the middle:

Now Stokes walked across his stumps to ramp Cummins over the keeper’s head and this was sheer audacity from a man who was at the peak of his powers. Next over, he reached his 100 but was not ready to acknowledge the standing ovation form the Headingley crowd. He knew he had a bigger job at hand. Next two balls, he smashed Hazlewood for two massive sixes. And the carnage went on! He had a bit of luck when he was dropped by Harris off a thick edge but this was an unbelievable innings. It all came down to 2 required now. 

Lyon to Stokes-Stokes reverse swept straight to point and was in no mood to go for a single but his partner Leach charged down halfway to steal a single. This was it!!! Stokes’ hard work was going to fall in vain!!! Going to lose by 1 run………!!! But no …… Lyon fumbles in collecting the throw and Leach gets saved. That was drama at its best. 

© - England Cricket

Next ball, Lyon bowls a fuller delivery to which Stokes sweeps and gets hit on his thighs on missing the sweep. That surely looked plumb in real time but umpire Joel Wilson didn’t raise his finger. And Australia wasted their review against Leach a n over earlier which was in no way going to be an LBW. They surely had to pay for not using the technology optimally. So, Stokes was saved twice in two balls and maybe this was a gift from the Almighty for playing so well. As the saying goes - "Fortune favors the brave”.

Leach took the all-important single the next over before Stokes smashed Cummins through cover for a four and lets out a roar. Yes, he’s done it!!! He’s done it once again after the WC final!!! 

"Cut away. Cut away for four. What an innings. What a player. Take a bow, Ben Stokes. The Ashes are well and truly alive because of one cricketer." -That was one supernatural knock.

And the knock was a tribute to the legendary English all-rounder Sir Ian Botham who played another such knock in the 1981 Ashes at the same venue to help England win.

England went on to draw the series which meant Australia would retain the Ashes. But this knock from Ben Stokes was surely going to go down as one of the best knocks ever in the history of Test Cricket. 

Ben Stokes had faced a lot of hardships coming to the 2019 World Cup. But he stayed strong and resilient and allowed these things to just make him tougher and stronger. He knew he could answer everyone with his game and what more could he have gifted the English crowd in a span of just 1 month!!!

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