“Keep Test cricket alive for the next generation of fans”, a young Indian fan’s banner read in the crowd at Edgbaston.
Here is hoping his wish is fulfilled and the next generation of cricket lovers get the chance to see a match of this stature in years to come.
There must be something in the water at Birmingham.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, at the same ground, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was the catalyst as England secured a nail-biting two-run second Ashes Test victory over Australia, setting them on their way to reclaiming the tiny urn under skipper Michael Vaughan.
Most in-the-know observers describe the 2005 series as the best of all time and that Edgbaston Test has a strong case for being England’s most famous win.
While there is perhaps not too much debate about that, the triumph of Joe Root’s men against India in the Midlands on Saturday lunchtime offered the truest of throwbacks to that epic contest with the Baggy Green.
For starters, in both Tests, everything rested on the outcome of day four.
All those years ago, Australia went out that morning needing 107 runs to clinch the match while England required just the two wickets. Fast-forward time and the Men in Blue were in a healthier but not too dissimilar position.
India were 110-5 overnight going into Saturday, chasing 84 runs to seal the opener as opposed to the hosts’ requirement of five more wickets.
Each Test of course resulted in successes for England but Edgbaston Part II, like its first installment, will be remembered for its blockbuster moments and fairytale plotlines more so than the outcome.
Ben Stokes’ spellbinding second-innings offering with the ball was one of those moments. The all-rounder captured the key wicket of Indian icon Virat Kohli, one of three scalps for him on the final day, to virtually end the visitor’s hopes of winning the Test.
Arms up and stretched out à la Flintoff when he dismissed Australian batsman and captain Ricky Ponting in ’05, Stokes then sunk to his knees in much the same way as the Lancastrian did.
Whether or not Stokes had tried to mimic Flintoff’s celebration makes no end as it was his way, like Freddie, of letting out his raw emotion and showing just what playing for his country means to him.
The calibre of wicket-taking victims in each instance added to the drama and on both occasions the boisterous Edgbaston crowd created a feeling of reverberation which is hard to usurp.
Ponting, departed for nought, eventually edging behind to Geraint Jones after a thorough examination from the gun all-rounder in a quite brilliant over spell, in what was a crucial juncture of the Australia second innings chase, with a target of 282 looking iffy from that point.
Equally, with the way Stokes found seam and nip on a engaging cricket pitch to move the ball back into Kohli’s pads, it was an lbw dismissal of on-par ramifications.
Ever since he broke through into the England set-up in the summer of 2011, New Zealand-born Stokes was tagged with the Flintoff comparison. There is no doubt both are big players for the big occasion but Stokes is a far better all-rounder, with bat and ball.
He has already proven that with his consistency in all three formats over time whereas injury put pay to Flintoff ever really coming close to repeating his Ashes feats again.
That said, Stokes, despite being recognised as England’s best player, will probably never be as revered as Flintoff, who became a people’s champion with the down-to-earth way he went about his business.
He also benefitted immensely from the fact the 2005 Ashes series was played out to a mass audience on terrestrial TV in the UK, inspiring thousands to take up the game. Now, cricket is pay-per-view in England.
Stokes will probably play no part in the second Test at Lord’s this coming Thursday as he is due to appear at Bristol Crown Court on Monday having being charged with affray following a late-night brawl in the city’s streets in September last year.
He has plead not guilty and will vow to clear his name in court, leaving England likely Stoke-less for now.
You do get the feeling though that his last day star-turn with the ball, guiding England to victory, has set the platform for his team to go on and dominate this Test series.
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