The realm of sports has often been graced with performances that border on the miraculous. While some of these feats are borne out of divine intervention or sheer luck, others unfold on the pitch, right in front of our eyes, bending reality to their will. One such spectacle was presented by Ben Stokes during the second Test of the 2023 Ashes.
Though England tasted defeat in the match, ending 2-0 down in the series, Stokes’ breathtaking 155 runs were nothing short of a marvel. Unfortunately, the splendour of this innings could not alter the game’s outcome, leaving it as a mere footnote in Australia’s triumphant conquest.
The Stokes Wonder
As spectators at Lord’s witnessed Stokes’ match-defying performance, they couldn’t help but draw parallels with his previous heroic outings. From the 2019 World Cup final to his audacious striking against Australia in Headingley 2019, and his brutal efficiency in the 2022 T20 World Cup final, Stokes had previously showcased his ability to defy odds on a Sunday, the day when divine forces supposedly rest.
This time, however, his valiant efforts were in vain. With England 2-0 down in the Ashes series, Stokes’ spectacular 155 runs will be remembered as an isolated event, despite the Test match seemingly bifurcating into two distinct parts due to his performance.
The Spark and the Flame
Stokes’ trigger for this phenomenal performance was not merely an extension of his all-rounder’s mindset or the desire to not let his teammates down. This time, it was fuelled by a sense of righteous anger, reminiscent of Old Testament wrath.
It was Jonny Bairstow’s controversial stumping that ignited the spark. But Stokes, being both the spark and the fuel, had until now been hesitant to mix the two. However, Alex Carey’s underarm delivery provided just the right catalyst, and Stokes, then at 62 off 126, unleashed his wrath.
The Rain of Boundaries
Before Stokes’ boundary spree began, he punctured the field with as many fours as a harbinger of impending doom. Despite Cameron Green sticking to a short delivery, Stokes managed to find gaps in the field, and continued to do so even when Green tried to change his line of attack.
Then came the sixes, each one followed by the chorus of “same old Aussies, always cheating”. Stokes hit three consecutive sixes off Green’s deliveries, reaching his 13th century off 142 balls, much to the delight of the crowd.
The Return to Mortality
An attempt to break free resulted in a catch to backward point, which Carey managed to hold onto despite visible nervousness. The Australian sighs of relief echoed around the ground as England’s last hope walked back, leaving the remaining three wickets as mere formalities.
Despite its ultimate fruitlessness, Stokes’ innings will remain etched in cricketing history and in the hearts of those who witnessed it. As England heads to Headingley for the next Test, Stokes’ performance will serve as a beacon of hope for a team that needs to win three matches consecutively.
The aftermath of this match leaves behind several questions. How many miracles does one international team need? Will England’s best chance for an Ashes victory since 2015 be over too soon? Why does a team, moulded in Stokes’ image and equipped with all the tools of success, still need him as their saviour?
Perhaps the most pertinent question of all is – how many more “miracles” does Ben Stokes have left in him? Only time will tell whether his latest marvel was indeed wasted, or if it serves as a precursor to many more to come.