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Ben Stokes has written himself an indelible entry in sporting history

It was one of the great finishes to any sporting contest, and proof that test cricket can still excite in the age of instant gratification.

Ben Stokes’s match-winning 135 not out at Headingley stands comparison with Sir Ian Botham’s Ashes heroics on the same ground in 1981.

A year and 11 days after being cleared of affray over an incident outside a Bristol nightclub, and six weeks to the day since batting England to World Cup glory against New Zealand at Lord’s, Stokes dragged England out of a Headingley pit they’d dug themselves.

Image: Stokes scored 84 not out to help England win the Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s earlier this summer

All out for 67 in the first innings, Joe Root’s team deserved the flak they got. Seemingly unable to find the patience and judgement required for test cricket, they were heading for Ashes ignominy.

Management were revisiting their 2015 decision to concentrate on one-day cricket, having reaped the World Cup but seemingly finding themselves unable to find 11 men able to make a proper fist of a five-day test.

This astounding day changed the mood totally.

Yorkshiremen Jonny Bairstow and captain Root made gritty, vital contributions on their home ground in Leeds.

England’s number 11 batsman, Jack Leach, who joined Stokes with 73 runs still needed to keep the Ashes series alive, played a brave and indispensable part.

But it was Stokes, moving from rock-solid defence through measured acceleration to match-winning attack, who denied Australia and wrote himself an indelible entry in sporting history.

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Not sure he can quite believe what he’s just done? @benstokes38 #Ashes ?????????

— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) August 25, 2019 Image: England captain Root trudges off for a duck as they made just 67 in their first innings

“It’s the best test innings I’ve seen, and the rest of the team think the same,” said Australia captain Tim Paine. “Well played to Ben.”

The drama masks the trouble test cricket is in around the world.

Away from the Ashes, the vast majority of matches are played out in front of sparse crowds, and many top players are prioritising the short-form 20-over game and the lucrative contracts that go with it.

But for this Ashes contest, sell-out crowds and mass attention are guaranteed.

Image: Sir Ian Botham following his own Headingley miracle in 1981 Image: Ben Stokes after he was cleared of affray

England have done part of a job, and brought the series score level at 1-1.

To retake the fabled Ashes from Australian hands, they must stop their opponents winning either of the two remaining matches next month, and win at least one themselves.

Otherwise Stokes’s unforgettable innings will have been in vain.


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