On This Day, 2019 Ashes: If you are Ben Stokes, things just happen around you

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This article on Ben Stokes was published on CricXtasy one year back the day Ben Stokes produced his magical knock at Headingley in the Ashes. On its first anniversary, we are re-publishing this for the readers. 

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It could have gone way back into the stands. But no, it just about clears Josh Hazlewood’s outstretched hands.

He could have hit it inside out over cover. He could have slog swept over cow corner. But no, it has to be a switch hit over point, sailing into a jubilant Headingley crowd.

He could have swung one over long-on to put Pat Cummins’ rhythm off. But no, it’s a full-blooded scoop over fine leg for six.

He could have moved from 96 to 98 and then to 100 with two twos. But no, it’s a blistering shot through wide long-on for a four followed by two back to back sixes against Australia’s best bowler in the Test match.

It could have been a lame run-out at the non-strikers end for his partner. But no, Lyon had to miss collecting the ball to hand England a reprieve.

The ball could have missed the stumps in ball tracking or could have hit Stokes outside the leg-stump. But no, it had to be three reds on the replays and a wrong on-field decision from the umpire.  

It could have been a scratchy single to take England over the line from when the scores were level. But no, it had to be a piercing drive through cover for four.

It could have been James Anderson, or Stuart Broad or even Jofra Archer at the other end in the 76-run last wicket partnership. But no, it had to be one from the rare spectacled breed with a raving 92 as opener two Tests ago.

Things just happen around Ben Stokes. They have to.

A month and a half ago, Stokes was at the crease when the greatest ever tie in One Day Internationals was played out. He could have achieved a target of 24 from 12 with four bloody sixes to the roof top at the Home of cricket in the bloody World Cup final. Mind you, he is capable of it.

Ben Stokes in WC 2019

Ben Stokes produced a spectacular knock in the 2019 World Cup finals too

But no, it was a freakish overthrow off the bat that earned him a bonus six runs in the final over. And before that it was Trent Boult’s foot landing on the boundary ropes to reprieve him. 

It could then have been an easy peasy Super Over to hand England a win and Ben Stokes a Man-of-the-Match. But no, it had to be another tie and a result decided by boundary count before Ben Stokes indeed walked off with his award.

ALSO READ: The Ben Stokes you see, the Ben Stokes England sees

In the same World Cup, Stokes pulled off a screamer at deep mid-wicket. He could have just been close to the boundary rope and completed a regulation catch to send back Andile Phehlukwayo. But no, he had to be meandering away from the ropes to pull off a stunner for the cameras.

Earlier in the year, he would hit a short ball from Alzarri Joseph back to him after making 52 at St Lucia. It was no surprise that a no ball was spotted in the replays. It happens all the time in cricket.  But no, Stokes had to cross the boundary ropes after walking off and the new batsman had to come in before the umpires called him back out into the middle. He was a beneficiary of a rewrite in the law of leaving the wicket under a misapprehension made two years ago.

He could have been in a different pub. He could have not heard the abuse thrown at the gay couple. He could have chosen not to react to the abuse. But no, he had to defend them by getting into a street brawl.

Ben Stokes in WC 2019

Ben Stokes pulls off a screamer in the 2019 World Cup

Three years ago, in another final, he could have bowled three no-balls and then conceded a few doubles and a couple of sixes and a four to hand West Indies a win. But no, Carlos Brathwaite, a nobody at the time, had to hit four sixes in a row against him in the final over to win the World T20.

The same year, he had blasted 258 off 198 balls in a Test match with 30 fours and 11 sixes. It could have come against India at Rajkot or West Indies at Leeds or Australia at Perth or New Zealand at Lord’s. He, in fact, went on to make or had made hundreds at these very venues against these very teams. But no, the highest score, a bludgeoning 258 at a strike rate of 130.3 had to come against the World’s no.1 ranked team at the time, South Africa, in their own backyard.

He could have made his maiden Test ton in the 2015 Ashes or in his second series against India at home. But no, it had to come in the 2013 Ashes when Mitchell Johnson was breathing fire from head to toe and unleashing fury on hapless England batsmen.

A Test ago at Adelaide – his very first Test match – he could have gotten a first Test wicket when Brad Haddin was on 51 – a lovely length delivery that eked out an edge to the keeper. But no, Marais Erasmus had to check for a no-ball and the replays had to show that Stokes had overstepped. And indeed, Haddin had to go on and score a ton as Australia piled up a massive total.

Things just happen around Ben Stokes. They just have to.

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As he stood arms elated, the Headingley crowd, the Aussies, and everyone else near a television set were lauding a superhuman effort. 67 all out in the first essay, England were trolled endlessly on social media until their star all-rounder turned it all around.

Ben Stokes in Ashes 2019

Ben Stokes and the Headingley magic

From 2 off 66 balls and 30 off 109 balls, Stokes watched helplessly as his guilty colleagues, well gifted with the bat, threw their wickets away one by one. Even if he did contribute to one of it, the run out of Jos Buttler, he deserved a batsman egging him on from the other end.

Instead, it was Ben Stokes all alone with the tail at Headingley with his team still 98 runs away from a win.

This would turn into 73 needed with one wicket left soon enough. In the remaining 10 completed overs in the game, Stokes faced the last ball thrice and took a single two times to retain strike. On five occasions, he took a single off the fourth or fifth ball to only leave one or two balls for Leach to face.

Off the remaining balls, he just clobbered. Clobbered hard.

There were switch hits, reverse swats, scoops, slog sweeps, slashes, inside out lofts and merciless wafts. Never once did Stokes lose control. Never once did his grip get sweaty. Never once did his eyes waver. Never once was he out of balance.

In the last wicket stand of 76, Leach faced just 17 balls and made a solitary run. Stokes made 74.

Again, he could have gotten the 74 in 120 balls like his two off 66 earlier in the innings. But no, he would get them off 45 balls with seven sixes and four fours. He would get them with a chutzpah that International batsmen can only dream of.

Things don’t just happen around Ben Stokes. He makes things happen around him.