Like many, I assumed it would all be over when I looked at the score in England’s third Ashes Test against Australia on Sunday.
But like many I didn’t count on the character and talent of Ben Stokes.
I was there at the WACA in December 2013 to see Stokes hit his maiden Test century against Australia in just his second game, so I’ve always known what he’s capable of.
Since then his 258 against South Africa in 2016 and, more recently, his performance in the World Cup final, have shown his ability. But still this was something special. It was unbelievable.
Stokes can blow hot and cold. Like most cricketers he’s not always on it, but he has the brilliant knack of performing on the big occasions.
At Headingley last week the stakes could hardly have been much higher. The Ashes looked lost. Australia were so close to retaining them and ensuring the rest of the series was irrelevant.
Stokes never believed it was gone. It was an incredible scenario that England needed, but Stokes is an incredible player and his 76-run partnership with No11 Jack Leach showed the all-rounder’s never-give-up attitude. I’ve never seen anything like it.
His unbeaten innings of 135 will go down in history and I think it was influenced by his experiences in the Indian Premier League and around people like Shane Warne, who he worked with at Rajasthan Royals.
Stokes believed he could win it for England when many wouldn’t, but I’d also like to pay tribute to Leach’s role because if he had been dismissed his partner wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win it.
I read that Leach used to suffer from anxiety about his batting, so he deserves a lot of credit for his bravery and concentration.
People don’t see the hard work behind the scenes which pays off in moments like that, or in Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar’s stand to draw at Cardiff in 2009.
Rewind nearly two years and Stokes was in a very different place. After the incident outside a Bristol nightclub some were calling for him never to play for England again.
He went through a lot personally and it could have cost him his career. Instead he’s managed to use the negativity and move forward, both on and off the pitch.
Stokes seems to have learnt from his mistakes, become more responsible and has completely changed the perception the public have of him.
I really hope that England can capitalise on his momental knock at Headingley and fight back to win the Ashes, because Stokes deserves it.
If they were to go from 67 all out and one wicket away from defeat to regaining the urn it would be a brilliant comeback. But if Stokes’s efforts don’t prove the turning point then it will be a huge waste.
Personally I still make Australia the favourites. They played the better all-round cricket in the third Test, dominated for the majority of it, bowled phenomenally to skittle England in the first innings and only need to win one of the remaining two Tests.
The break until the fourth Test at Old Trafford next Thursday will help them too, as will the return of Steve Smith.
Of course England are confident and have the momentum and they need others to follow Stokes’s example.
Anderson bowled 20 overs for Lancashire’s second XI on Tuesday and I think if he can prove his fitness he has to play in the fourth Test on his home ground.
He’s undoubtedly the main man in home conditions, has troubled Australia in the past and adds a different dimension to the attack.
I’ve seen people suggesting dropping a batsman to accommodate him, but there’s no need for five seamers, so unfortunately Chris Woakes might have to miss out.
It’s tough, but ultimately it’s great that, thanks to Stokes, England still have such selection decisions to ponder.
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