Ben Stokes’ unforgettable heroics in the third Ashes Test between England and Australia has seen the star all-rounder make substantial gains in the latest ICC Test rankings for players.
Stokes’ unbeaten innings of 135 along with four wickets with the ball in England’s dramatic one-run victory has seen the Englishman climb to second and 13th spot in the ICC Test rankings for all-rounders and batsmen respectively.
The other player to make significant inroads in the updated rankings is Jasprit Bumrah with the India pacer breaking into the top 10. Bumrah picked up sensational figures of 5-7 in the second innings against Windies at Antigua and that effort has seen the India man climb to seventh position in the charts with a career-best rating of 774 points.
Australia pacer Pat Cummins continues to top the bowlers’ rankings after his four-wicket match haul at Headingley while Jofra Archer has made remarkable strides just two matches into his England Test career. The England pacer is up to 43rd now after his latest display at Leeds where he claimed a six-wicket haul in the first innings.
In the batting department, India skipper Virat Kohli has held on his No1 ranking but only just. The India man registered a half-century in the second innings at Antigua but his lead over second-ranked Steve Smith is now down to just six rating points despite the Aussie’s absence at Headingley due to a concussion injury.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson retains the third spot ahead of India’s Cheteshwar Pujara while Tom Latham has risen to the eighth position after his splendid ton in the second Test against Sri Lanka.
ICC Test Rankings for Batsmen (Top three)
ICC Test Rankings for Bowlers (Top three)
The last time India played a Test against the West Indies at Antigua in 2016, Ashwin finished as the man-of-the-match in a thumping win by an innings and 92 runs for the visitors. The off-spinner cracked an excellent ton with the bat in the first-innings before returning with figures of 7-83 with the ball in the second innings.
Ashwin eventually went on to bag the man-of-the-series award as well after claiming a total of 17 wickets in the four Tests while chipping in with 235 runs with the bat.
Yet, the 32-year-old could only watch from the sidelines at Antigua this time around with Virat Kohli and the Indian team management opting to go with Ravindra Jadeja as the sole spinner instead in the first Test against West Indies.
For long, Ashwin had been India’s go-to spinner in the red-ball format and he was one of the pivotal figures in the side’s march to the top of the Test rankings in the home stretch of 2016-17. In fact, between 2015 and 2018, no other spinner in the world picked up more Test wickets than Ashwin who claimed 201 of them in 38 matches at an average of 23.26.
However, successive overseas tours of South Africa, England and Australia in 2018 saw Ashwin fall down the pecking order. The off-spinner has missed important Tests in each of the three tours, either through injury or due to the team management deciding to go with other personnel instead.
He didn’t feature in the third and final Test against South Africa at Johannesburg with India opting to go with an all-pace attack. Ashwin then went on to miss the final Test in England as well in the summer before sitting out three of the four clashes in Australia at the end of the year with an injury.
That he was outbowled by Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon for large parts of the England and Australia tours respectively have only served to dent Ashwin’s overseas Test credentials.
Of the last 13 overseas Tests, Ashwin has now missed six of them and primarily due to his fitness issues. In his absence, it is Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav who have profited with head coach Ravi Shastri going as far as declaring the latter as India’s first-choice overseas Test spinner after his displays in Australia.
“He (Kuldeep) plays overseas Test cricket and he gets five wickets, so he becomes our primary overseas spinner. Going ahead, if we have to play one spinner, he is the one we will pick,” Shastri had told Cricbuzz after Kuldeep’s five-wicket haul in the Sydney Test last year.
“There is a time for everyone. But now Kuldeep is our frontline number one overseas spinner.”
The fact that Kuldeep was benched along with Ashwin in India’s first overseas Test engagement since the Australian tour disapproves Shastri’s assertion but it does show that there is no clear No1 spinner in the side at the moment.
The fact that Jadeja has performed well in Ashwin’s absence has only compounded the off-spinner’s problems as well. In the seven Tests that Jadeja has played since the turn of 2018, the southpaw has claimed a total of 29 wickets while also registering one ton and three fifties with the bat.
Since the turn of 2015, Jadeja has contributed with 149 wickets in 30 Tests at an average of 22.06 which is even lower than Ashwin’s. It is Jadeja who is now ranked higher in the ICC Test bowlers’ rankings with the left-hander lying in the 10th spot ahead of Ashwin in 13th.
With the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma giving India a newfound supremacy in the pace department, the role of the spinner has become that of a supporting one overseas.
As such, there’s space for one spinner in the playing XI and it is clearly not Ashwin’s name which comes up first.
Ashwin’s wings in India’s limited-overs setup were clipped swiftly along with that of Jadeja in the aftermath of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final defeat to Pakistan. Since then, Jadeja has forced his way back into the ODI and T20 squads while also featuring in the World Cup but Ashwin continues to remain relegated.
With Jadeja and even Kuldeep now overtaking him in the Test pecking order, things are suddenly not looking very bright for India’s spin stalwart.
Ben Stokes may have ascended to the pantheon of cricket’s modern greats with an innings that will go down in Ashes history but the man who enabled his majestic knock is happy to represent “village cricketers” everywhere.
While Stokes’ awe-inspiring 135 not out in the third Test at Headingley is still being pored over and placed in context, it would not have been possible without Jack Leach.
The number 11 batsman with a first-class batting average that matches his position in the order shared the crease with Stokes for an hour-long cameo that is destined to become the stuff of legend.
He faced down 17 high-pressure deliveries, knowing any misjudgement would send the Ashes urn back to Australia, and almost ran himself out just before tying the scores with his only run of the day.
At the other end, Stokes embarked on a breathtaking assault, launching sixes of every kind into the stands, masterfully manipulating the strike and generally moulding the entire occasion to his design.
When he thrashed the final, climactic boundary the last-wicket stand had put on a thoroughly inconceivable 76 in England’s record pursuit of 359.
Stokes, of course, was the man of the moment but Leach’s role did not go unrecognised by fans, for whom he has become a cult figure.
If his doughty batting was not enough, the endearing sight of him stopping at frequent intervals to polish his glasses – Leach eschews contact lenses at the crease – only increased his bond with the crowd.
“It’s nice to have that, it’s probably because I look like a village cricketer out there, in my glasses and with the bald head,” he said.
“Maybe people think ‘that could be me’ because all the others look pretty professional. I’m just enjoying playing for England.”
As for his meticulous lens-wiping routine, Leach explained it was a simple matter of clearing the condensation and giving himself the best chance of hanging around.
“I just had to make sure they were clean every time I was facing up,” he said.
“I would really regret it if they had been smudged and I’d got out, then the cameras zoom in on the glasses and they say ‘he didn’t clean his glasses’.
“I just had to stay calm and do the job at hand. I felt good out there, I was really focused on what I needed to do.”
England’s hopes had faded almost to nought when Leach walked to the crease after five wickets tumbled following lunch on day four, but Leach had reason to believe something special was still possible.
That is because he had seen Stokes do something similarly improbable just six weeks earlier with his man-of-the-match performance in the World Cup final.
On that occasion he was at home, willing Stokes on as a supporter, but this time he was in the middle as his partner.
“I was watching the World Cup final as a fan and that showed that anything is possible,” he said. “Ben Stokes was at the centre of that as well. Maybe Ben Stokes has to be at the centre of all things that are possible. He was just unbelievable.
“I can’t remember exactly what he said when I came out. I think he spoke about the plan, how we would go about it.
“Stokesy straight away was thinking about how he would knock off the runs, obviously believing that it’s definitely going to happen. It is all a bit of a blur to be honest.
“I didn’t want to get in Stokesy’s bubble when he was doing really well, hitting all those sixes. I just wanted to do my job.”
The Somerset spinner would not even have been in a position to help had Moeen Ali not endured a dreadful first Test at Edgbaston, losing his role as first-choice spinner and opening a vacancy in the side.
With Adil Rashid already injured that meant Leach was promoted from third to first in the pecking order for the past two Tests, a swift rise that caught even him cold.
“I probably thought I’d be watching the Ashes at home,” he admitted. “But I wanted to be ready to play and not presume anything. Now my opportunity has come about so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Provided by Press Association Sports