Mature Ben Stokes shines in the heat of Ashes battle to complete incredible arc

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Ben Stokes has had an incredible six weeks.

It is Ben Stokes’ world and we all are simply living in it. That much was confirmed on Sunday at Headingley as the England all-rounder pulled out arguably the greatest Test innings of all time to keep the hosts alive in the Ashes.

For the second time in six weeks, Stokes turned into a national hero following his match-winning exploits at Lord’s that ended England’s excruciating wait for a maiden World Cup title.

The accolades have been pouring in from all quarters ever since with Englishmen and rivals united in their praise for Stokes’ extraordinary heroics at Headingley.

“Arise, Sir Ben Stokes” was a common theme across social media after his stupendous unbeaten innings of 135 with calls to award him the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award already growing stronger.

Battling against heavy odds at Headingley, Stokes evoked the same spirits that spurred former England all-rounders Ian Botham and Andre Flintoff to Ashes glory as he sunk to his knees after smashing the winning boundary off Pat Cummins. It was in stark contrast to three years ago in Kolkata when Stokes sunk to his knees in similar fashion but for a completely different reason.

On that occasion, he had been taken to the cleaners by Carlos Brathwaite in the 2016 T20 World Cup final with the Windies all-rounder’s stunning assault clinching the title for the Caribbean style in dramatic style.

From agony at Kolkata to ecstasy at Headingley, life has indeed come a full circle for Stokes. Those three years in between haven’t exactly been covered in glory either for the all-rounder who has never been far from controversy.

His Bristol nightclub incident in 2017 where he was ultimately found not guilty of affray damaged his reputation severely with the England and Wales Cricket Board slapping on him an eight-month ban along with stripping him of his Test vice-captaincy.

Stokes was subsequently dropped from England’s Ashes 2017-18 touring party with Australia going on to comprehensively win the series by 4-0. Since then, Stokes has kept a low profile in his return to international cricket before the limelight caught up with his brilliance in the World Cup.

“I’m not going to suddenly be an angel because that’s not me,” Stokes had said England’s World Cup winning campaign.

“It’s just about trying to make better decisions but I don’t think of this in terms of being a second opportunity.”

The better decisions Stokes talked about haven’t been limited to his off-field choices but on the field of cricket as well. Stokes’ maturity was evident in the 2019 World Cup and it has come to the fore even more prominently in the Ashes.

Five half-centuries including his innings in the Lord’s final were struck by Stokes in the tournament and almost every one of them came when the chips were down for England. Former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting had made the same observation when he tagged Stokes as England’s go-to-man for the Ashes.

“It seems like he’s playing with a lot of maturity. He doesn’t seem like he’s in much of a rush now as he might have been. The thing about his personality as well, he’s a big, strong, brash guy with a bit of an ego … and I think as a younger person probably everything was flat out – one speed,” Ponting had said of Stokes’ World Cup displays.

“To me, it seems like he was able to understand situations and play situations accordingly. That’s a bit of maturity and understanding his own game and understanding what his team needs him to do.”

That is exactly what the Englishman has done in the Ashes with his tons at Lord’s and now Headingley coming at crucial junctures for the hosts. His ability to raise his game in the heat of battle makes Stokes unlike any player going around in world cricket.

It is true that he has had his fair share of luck in both the World Cup final and the third Ashes Test with a deflected overthrow for six runs at Lord’s and a wrongly turned down lbw appeal by Nathan Lyon at Headingley going in his and England’s favour.

But as they say, fortune favours the brave and Stokes has been just that.

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From Wanderers to Antigua - how Jasprit Bumrah has become an instant hit in Test cricket

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Bumrah continues to break records.

Jasprit Bumrah’s meteoric rise in the Test format shows no signs on stopping nearly 18 months since he made his debut in South Africa with the India pacer adding another five-wicket haul to his name against the West Indies on Sunday.

The 25-year-old was literally unplayable at Antigua in the second innings with his eight overs fetching five wickets while leaking just seven runs. Bumrah’s sensational spell saw West Indies fold for 100 runs in the second innings to hand India a thumping 318-run win in the first Test.

With his figures of 5-7 at Antigua, Bumrah has now picked up five-wicket hauls in South Africa, England, Australia and the West Indies and that too in his maiden tours to the four countries.

It is a feat which has not been attained by any other Asian bowler in history with even the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble falling short of claiming that honour.

Bumrah’s latest achievement came days after he brought up a half-century of Test dismissals in just his 11th appearance in the format. No other Indian pacer in history has reached the mark as quickly as Bumrah who is showing signs that he is on his way to becoming the greatest fast bowler ever produced by the nation.

The Ahmedabad-born pacer now has a career bowling average of 20.63, 21.88 and 20.17 in the Test, ODI and T20 formats respectively which is nothing short of stellar after a total of 111 international appearances

Here, we take a look back at all four of Bumrah’s five-wicket hauls so far in Tests starting with his Antigua heroics.

1st Test West Indies and India, Antigua

5-7 (Second innings)

The India pacer was off-colour and down on pace in the first innings in his first international appearance since the World Cup and was able to pick up just one wicket while leaking 55 runs in 18 overs.

However, he was completely transformed in a terrific opening spell in the second innings which saw the West Indies collapse to 27-6. Five of those six wicket were claimed by Bumrah with the pacer showing he has now added an excellent out-swinger to his already formidable armoury.

Three of his dismissals were against left-handers who were all bamboozled by the incoming delivery. The seven runs conceded by Bumrah is the least by any Indian bowler to have claimed a five-wicket haul.

3rd Test Australia and India, Melbourne (2018)

6-33 (First innings)

With the four-match series level at 1-1, there was all to play for when Australia and India locked horns at Melbourne in the third Test and it was Bumrah who turned out to be the match-winner.

India has posted a massive 443 runs in the first-innings before Bumrah’s heroics blew the hosts away for just 151 runs in response. The pacer claimed 6-33 in his 16 overs including the important wickets of Travis Head, Shaun Marsh and Marcus Harris to seal a decisive first-innings lead for India.

He then went on to claim a further three wickets in the second innings to help India clinch a 137-run win that would eventually pave the way for their first Test series win on Aussie soil.

Bumrah's heroics were pivotal in India sealing a Test series win Down Under.

Bumrah’s heroics were pivotal in India sealing a Test series win Down Under.

3rd Test England and India, Trent Bridge (2018)

5-85 (Second innings)

India found themselves trailing 0-2 heading into the Trent Bridge clash with Bumrah having to sit out both losses due to an injury. The pacer made an instant impact in his first Test appearance in England with a seven-wicket match haul at Nottingham to help India towards a 203-run win.

Bumrah picked two wickets in the England first-innings but it was in the second where his most important contribution came. The hosts were set a humungous target of 521 runs to win and they eventually folded for 317 with Bumrah claiming 5-85.

The India man sent back Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and centurion Jos Buttler among his five dismissals to announce himself in style to the English crowds.

Instant impact by Bumrah in his first Test in England.

Instant impact by Bumrah in his first Test in England.

3rd Test South Africa and India, Johannesburg (2018)

5-54 (first innings)

Virat Kohli’s men had already lost the three-match series by the time the third Test started after defeats at Newlands and Centurion but they were able to restore some pride with an excellent 63-run win at the Wanderers.

Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar turned out to be the protagonists of India’s win after the visitors posted 187 in the first innings with the former picking up 5-54 to restrict South Africa’s lead to just seven runs.

The hosts were chasing a target of 241 runs in the second innings but were bundled out for 177 after Bumrah claimed the crucial wickets of AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock.

Bumrah's seven match wickets paved the way for a famous India win.

Bumrah’s seven match wickets paved the way for a famous India win.

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Brian Lara, Kusal Perera and Nathan Astle star in all-time great last innings heroics

Ajit Vijaykumar 19:06 26/08/2019
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Lara, Perera, Astle.

Was it the greatest Test knock in a chase? Was it the greatest innings of all time? Was it the greatest Test of all time?

Ben Stokes’ outlandish 135 not out that clinched a series saving win in the third Ashes Test at Leeds for England is without doubt one of the finest ever efforts in Test cricket.

So where does Stokes’ innings stand among all-time great knocks in the fourth innings? Here are three equally, maybe even more, great knocks in a chase in Tests.

Brian Lara – 153*

WI v Australia, 1999

The Windies needed 308 to win the Barbados Test. The hosts’ batting was Brian Lara and nothing much else. Against an attack that had Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill at their peak, the Windies’ batting crumbled in the final innings.

No batsman apart from Lara crossed the 40-run mark. From 105-5, Lara carried the home hopes on his shoulders, hitting 19 fours and one six.

McGrath took 5-92 from 44 overs and Lara kept him at bay. He went after the leg-spinners, scoring half the required runs himself as the Windies clinched a one-wicket win. It was the ultimate one-man show as the Windies took an unassailable 2-1 lead in the four-match series.

Kusal Perera – 153*

SL v SA, 2019

In February this year, the odds were stacked against Sri Lanka when they took on South Africa in the Durban Test.

The islanders had been in disarray for some time and faced a target of 304 in the final innings against an attack of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and a red-hot Duanne Olivier. No other Sri Lankan batsman reached fifty in the chase; it was all about Perera.

Kicking into overdrive after the fall of the ninth wicket for 226, Perera ended up smashing an unbeaten 153 off 200 balls with 12 fours and five sixes. He added 78 runs for the last wicket. The stunning win laid the foundation of a historic Test series win.

Nathan Astle – 222

NZ v ENG, 2002

This one ended in defeat. But for the sheer audacity of the innings, Astle’s assault has to rank as one of the most incredible innings ever played.

It was an incredible game, with a quick double ton from Graham Thorpe setting hosts New Zealand a target of 550 to win the Christchurch Test.

With just one batsman reaching fifty and regular batsman Chris Cairns injured and forced to bat at No11, Astle launched into the most audacious knock ever played. Hitting 28 fours and 11 monstrous sixes, Astle hit 222 of just 168 balls to take the Kiwis to 451. It remains the fastest double century in history.

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