Ben Stokes' agony, Ishant Sharma's ecstasy on incredible July day at Lord's

Ishant Sharma celebrates the wicket of Ben Stokes in Lord's 2014.
Ishant Sharma celebrates the wicket of Ben Stokes in Lord's 2014.

The cricket world had already witnessed Ben Stokes' heroics in the 2013-14 Ashes when Mitchell Johnson dismantled England. Ishant Sharma was doing something similar at Lord's. But Stokes remained a threat.

Despite his form with the bat, the Indians did view him as a threat when he walked out to bat at Lord's on July 21, 2014.

England had just lost Matt Prior to madness. Ishant Sharma was reaping the rewards for bowling short. Trying to pull one out of the park, Prior found Murali Vijay at deep mid-wicket.

The in-form Joe Root threatened with his presence. Despite coming off consecutive ducks in this series, Ben Stokes had picked up five wickets in the Test, which could have been a confidence booster. England needed another 121 runs, and they had four wickets in hand.

Five dot balls and then trying to pull another short ball from Ishant Sharma, Ben Stokes found the lower end of the bat as the ball skied to Cheteshwar Pujara at midwicket.

Ishant Sharma had picked a five-wicket haul. India were knocking on the doors of a historic win.

At that point, it was Ben Stokes' fourth consecutive duck for England. In fact, his scores for England in the last 10 innings read – 0, 5, 5, 4, 0, 4, 0, 0, 0, and 0.

Who would have thought then that five years later, at the same venue, his heroics would help England lift their first-ever ODI World Cup?

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Touted as the "next big thing" for English cricket to getting dropped from the Test side, Ben Stokes endured a rollercoaster ride in the first year of his Test career. He didn't play a Test for nine months after the Lord's axing.

Earlier in 2014, Ben Stokes was ruled out of England's 2014 T20 World Cup squad for breaking his hand after punching a locker. Later that year, he failed to find a place in England's 2015 World Cup squad. The omission raised many eyebrows as Stokes' failures had more to do with the fact that he was batting too low in the line-up.

Paul Collingwood, who was then a part of Scotland's coaching team, famously told the BBC:

"What England did with him is like telling Ronaldo to play at right-back. He could've won you the World Cup. The thing that frustrates me is that England were batting him in the number eight position."

Collingwood added:

"You've got to play him in the right position - whether that be four, five or six - and allow him to win games from that position. You've got a guy here who - if he came good - he could've won you the World Cup. He could have won three or four games, by himself."

It was nightmarish to experience that horrid run so early in the career, but Ben Stokes remained determined to climb to the top. Before the 2017 pub brawl, there remained his bouts with discipline, but Ben Stokes showed the world that he had the potential to match the heights achieved by Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff.

Since his return in April 2015, he has been among the leading cricketers in the world – averaging 38 with the bat and 31 with the ball in Tests.

As England began to revamp under Eoin Morgan in ODIs after the 2015 World Cup debacle, Ben Stokes has been among the best middle-order batters, averaging over 48 and striking at 98.

In 2017, Ben Stokes became the highest-paid overseas cricketer in IPL history after bagging an β‚Ή14.5 crore contract with Rising Pune Supergiant. He won the MVP award that season. Three years later, he won the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for Best Cricketer of the Year by the ICC. The award flow hasn't stopped since.

Ben Stokes, the Player of the Match in the 2019 World Cup final, was named the Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World for 2019 and 2020. In the Ashes Test in Leeds in 2019, he arguably played the greatest-ever Test knock to guide England to a one-wicket victory.

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Finally, the Ishant Sharma India envisioned…

Indians celebrate at Lord's 2014.
Indians celebrate at Lord's 2014.

As Ben Stokes took the long walk back, teammates gathered around an ecstatic Ishant Sharma celebrating his five-for. India's lone win in the longest format at Lord's had come 28 years earlier, and they hadn't won an overseas Test since Kingston in June 2011.

Tempers were flaring after the Trent Bridge draw. The Ravindra Jadeja-James Anderson altercation had shaped into an ugly row. To make things worse, England dished out the greenest of surfaces to the Indians at Lord's.

Beating England in tailormade English conditions required something special. Ishant Sharma was doing just that.

In the 2006-07 season, a teenaged Ishant Sharma was fast-tracked into the Indian set-up as a new sensation. In the first year of his Test journey, he made a solid impression by claiming a five-for against Pakistan in Bengaluru and then proving to be kryptonite to Ricky Ponting.

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Brilliant in patches, Ishant Sharma struggled with consistency and hadn't evolved the way the Indian team management would have liked him to.

At almost 26, until the Lord's Test of 2014, he was already a veteran of 56 Tests, where he had picked up just 167 wickets at an average of almost 38.

He claimed two six-wicket hauls in New Zealand earlier that year, but India failed to convert those shows to win. He remained exceptional in patches as India lost the two-Test series 0-1.

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Three balls after Ben Stokes' dismissal, Ishant Sharma found the back of Joe Root with another short ball. It was only a matter of time before India pulled off a historic win, with Ishant Sharma registering his career-best figures of 7 for 74.

Years later, in an interview with Gaurav Kapur, Ishant Sharma would reveal:

"At the end of the fourth day, I had already dismissed Cook and Bell. Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) told us that from here, no one will think of a draw. Obviously, there was pressure on us on the last day. Moeen Ali and Root were playing bell, so Mahi bhai asked me to start bowling short as nothing was happening. He told me to bowl short till we take the new ball."

Ishant Sharma added:

"Just before lunch Moeen Ali was dismissed. While we were going in for lunch, Mahi bhai told me that he will make me bowl in short spells and that I had to bowl short. I told him that now he should just let me bowl till the end of the match. After I bowled four overs on the trot, Mahi bhai asked me to take rest, but I told him that there's fuel in the car let it run."
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Ishant Sharma hasn't looked back since Lord's 2014.

Ishant Sharma before and since Lord's 2014

Ishant Sharma is a completely changed bowler after Lord's 2014.
Ishant Sharma is a completely changed bowler after Lord's 2014.

Only the second Indian pacer to play over 100 Tests since Kapil Dev, Ishant Sharma has played a big role in India's rise as a Test side under Virat Kohli. In Kohli's six-and-a-half years as captain, India have topped the ICC Test Rankings for a cumulative period of almost four years.

Rated among the finest red ball pacers currently, Ishant Sharma was also the most successful Indian pacer in the recently concluded World Test Championship (WTC). He claimed 39 wickets from 12 Tests in the tournament at an average of 17.79. India topped the tables and ended the tournament as the runners-up, losing the final to New Zealand last month.

Agony for Ben Stokes and ecstasy for Ishant Sharma. July 21, 2014, at the Home of Cricket, did impact two cricketing careers that until then oscillated into the extremes of delight and frustration.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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