With regards to Ben Stokes, the two rivals—Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt—are on the same page
Ben Stokes is the glue that binds Britain at the time of Brexit. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are Tory colleagues, who became leadership rivals over how Britain should leave the European Union. Johnson sticks to the October 31 deadline, “deal or no deal”. Hunt called it a “fake deadline”. Johnson went on to become the Prime Minister, probably much to Hunt’s chagrin, after Theresa May stepped down as the leader of the Conservative Party. With regards to Stokes, however, the two rivals are on the same page. Both want the Christchurch-born England allrounder to be Knighted.
Stokes became England’s national hero after he anchored his team and helped them win an epic World Cup final on boundary count-back. It was his redemption. Three years ago, in the World T20 final against West Indies at Eden Gardens, he couldn’t defend 19 runs in the final over, as Carlos Brathwaite gazumped England’s party with four sixes on the spin. Stokes sat on his haunches and looked distraught.
The affray charge following a fight near a Bristol nightclub in September 2017 was the lowest point of his career. He went through an 11-month ordeal, missed an Ashes series, before being found not guilty. Stokes had a duty to make up for lost time. The Headingley Test during the ongoing Ashes series saw his entry into cricketing folklore.
The Guardian called it ‘the miracle at Headingley’. His 135 not out in the second innings was indeed once-in-a-lifetime innings. Chasing 259 for victory, England slumped to 286 for nine. Then, the magic began. Stokes added 76 runs for the last wicket with Jack Leach to make the improbable happen. England stayed alive in the series. He enjoyed the rub of the green. Fortune favoured the brave.
Thirty-eight years ago, Headingley had witnessed the batting sorcery of Ian Botham. In 1981 also, England were about to go two down in the Ashes. And staring at an innings defeat, with his team reeling on 135 for seven, the great man scored a magical 149 off 148 balls, hitting 27 fours. Botham’s innings, however, didn’t win the game for England, for Australia still needed only 130 runs in the fourth innings to wrap up the Test. Bob Willis’s eight for 43 knocked them over.
Little wonder then that Botham’s captain in that game, Mike Brearley, gave Stokes’s performance a higher rating. “It is hard to believe Stokes’ could ever have been, or even ever will be, surpassed,” Brearley wrote on The Times. The former England captain painted a picture. “Vivid though the images from the distant past are, mental pictures of rampaging bowling and batting by all three iconic all-rounders, it is difficult now to remove from the front of my mind the shock, the exhilaration, of the recent: the sheer improbability of Stokes’s performance at Headingley last week.”
Stokes evoked the memories of Botham. He, in fact, surpassed it. “It changed my life overnight. I think Ben’s life will be the same. He will have no private life. He has to get used to that and so do the family. He is public property but it is a great place to be in for the long term. It will set him up for life. He will reap the rewards which he richly deserves and he is now a world, box-office attraction,” the great allrounder told Telegraph Sport.
Even Geoffrey Boycott called it “the best I’ve seen in over 50 years”. Bottom line is that English sport got a true special one, not a self-styled moniker. But it would be more logical to savour Stokes’s effort rather than going into comparisons. VVS Laxman’s 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens and Brian Lara’s 153 not out in West Indies’ one wicket win over Australia in 1999 at Kensington Oval, too, will have many backers.
‘The next Botham’ tag weighed heavy on far too many England allrounders. The Headingley heroic did a great favour to Stokes. He has now completely emerged from Botham’s shadow. Also, his innings came on the heels of the World Cup final and hopefully it has done enough to take cricket back to the English living rooms.
Stokes, meanwhile, has set his sights on regaining the Ashes. “I will only take real satisfaction from the innings if we win back the Ashes. It was an amazing week in Headingley and something that will be very hard to forget, but we still have a long way to go. Momentum is huge in sport and I’m 100% sure when Stuart Broad got out, Australia would have thought they would have the Ashes by the end of the day, so we go into the next match with a lot of confidence,” he told Sky Sports News.
After three matches, the series is tied at 1-1. The momentum is now with the hosts and if they go on and win the Ashes, Prime Minister Johnson, Hunt and the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will all approve an open top bus parade in unison. On a lighter note, the Queen might defer the prorogation of the parliament to allow the MPs hail the triumph.