Ashes 2019: Ben Stokes toils away on fruitless day
By the time the third session rolled in on Day 2 of the 3rd Ashes Test at Leeds, England had gone from one end to the other on the hope-despair line.
With Australia bundled out for 179 on an overcast first day and with a must-win game staring them in the face, England had the chance to bat their opponents out of the game on a sunny morning and restore parity in the series. Steven Smith is slated to play the next Test, where he may also be joined by James Anderson, so England could have set things up nicely for the end of the series with a good batting performance.
Instead, England shockingly collapsed; all 10 wickets surrendered in just over 1 session for 67 runs.
Out came the bowlers, led by the very exciting but surely tiring Jofra Archer, who would have been hoping for a day’s rest at the very least. By the end of the second session, they had prized out three Australian wickets in the second innings.
Stuart Broad, Jack Leach and Chris Woakes all looked threatening and got on the wickets column. But with the 4th innings chase piling up slowly, England needed some magic to save the game.
And so it was down to Ben Stokes in the final session of the day. Starting alongside Leach as the session began, Stokes lumbered in manfully, as he always does. If you observe Stokes in his bowling action, he comes across as someone who is putting in a lot of effort.
Unlike Archer, or say Sam Curran, Stokes' action is not an effortless one. He prefers to bowl back-of-a-length, getting balls to nip back. He also produces that occasional awkward bounce, and a fair degree of swing, to keep his captain interested.
In the second over of his spell, he got Marnus Labuschagne to get a fat edge that went straight to his captain at first slip. Joe Root juggled the chance and to the disbelief of those around him, dropped it.
A little later, Stokes again had his man, this time strangled down the leg-side. Labuschagne reviewed immediately, and was proved right in the replays.
In between all of this, Stokes castled Travis Head with a swinging, full-length delivery that hit the base of off-stump.
Eight overs into his spell and with his pace and control intact, Stokes finally took a breather as the drinks break arrived, and he was replaced by Archer. That break lasted only four deliveries though, as Archer walked off the ground like an old man would (though a smiling one).
Hobbling off with cramps and looking awkwardly funny while doing so, Archer could have hardly done more than what he has so far with the ball and with his antics at the boundary rope to entertain the crowd.
Stokes returned to complete that over and almost had Labuschagne in the next; a faint nick to the keeper wasn’t enough as the bowler had over-stepped on review. He still had the pace and the movement to trouble Matthew Wade, hit uncomfortably on the thigh, before Labuschagne was offered his final reprieve of the day.
Jonny Bairstow got to another edge off Stokes but couldn’t hold on as he agonizingly fell to the ground. At this point, Australia were 266 ahead and Stokes was the one holding them off from running away with the game.
With their talismanic fast bowler off the ground and Australia’s lead stretching to imposing proportions, Stokes stretched his limits to offer a prolonged period of control and threat. It is not for nothing that he is regarded as a cricketer of titanic proportions.
Shane Warne, sitting in the commentary box, called him ‘the man you want with you in the trenches’ while talking about their association at Rajasthan Royals. Stokes sent down 15+ overs on the trot on Day 2 with an economy of 2.15, finishing with innings figures of 3/51.
Eventually, Archer returned to the ground and the mood lifted a bit, with Stokes getting Wade caught behind and Broad following up with Tim Paine’s dismissal late in the day. He wasn’t done though, opening the bowling with Stuart Broad on Day 3 and going on to bowl right to the end of the Australian innings.
Labuschagne, helped by one more of his seemingly never-ending lives, shepherded the tail well to leave England a seemingly impossible 359 to chase down. He finished on 80. The first chance off him, dropped by Root, was when he was on 14.
Some days are tougher than others at the office, with rewards hugely disproportional to the efforts you put in. Having squandered the early advantage provided by their bowlers and with the series on the line, England have the super-human efforts of Ben Stokes to thank for keeping them in the game - if only just.
Also read - Ashes Venues