In the 1981 Leeds Test between England and Australia, Sir Ian Botham composed a once-in-a-lifetime unbeaten innings of 149 to lift his side from the depths of despair to renewed hope of clinching a famous victory. The entire nation erupted in joy when Bob Willis dismantled Ray Bright’s stumps with a yorker to power the hosts to an awe-inspiring victory.
A little more than 38 years have gone by since Botham’s heroics brought an entire national to a standstill, but his epic innings is still fondly reminisced by fans and aficionados. On August 24, 2019, Benjamin Andrew Stokes followed in Botham’s footsteps by cracking another believe-it-or-not undefeated innings of 135 to guide England to a nail-biting one-wicket victory versus Australia at the same iconic Leeds ground. Just one month ago, the seasoned cricketer had also piloted England to a World Cup title.
The charismatic all rounder said he was “over the moon” after compiling a career-defining knock. “In terms of where we were at in the Ashes series, I’m obviously over the moon that we’ve managed to stay in the series,” Stokes noted.
“We knew if we lost this game then the Ashes were gone. To be sat here, especially after getting bowled out for 67, to still be in with a chance of getting the urn back is an amazing feeling. Walking off there at the end was a time to take everything in and realise what we’ve just done as a team, not as an individual. Bouncing back from getting bowled out for 67 to then chase down 359 was brilliant. We’ve got a few days off before the next Test starts, so when we turn up to Manchester, we’ve got to put everything behind us, what we’ve just managed to achieve, and start again because this will all be forgotten if we lose the next Test because then the Ashes are gone,” he added.
The all rounder also appreciated the Leeds crowd for their support through thick and thin and also observed that it motivated the side. The hosts were bundled out for an ignominious 67 in the first innings and had found themselves in dire-straits.
“It was absolutely deafening. Everywhere around the world, not just Leeds, the support we get from the Barmy Army and everybody, who turns out to watch us play, no matter what the situation of the game, they’ve always got us, they’re always singing, the Western Terrace were absolutely fantastic, they were cheering every dot ball, every boundary.
“When there was nothing to cheer about they were cheering. I hope the fans understand how much that influences us in terms of where we are in the game. It gives you that extra drive and adrenaline to really push you through. Being tired at the end, the noise and the atmosphere gives you an extra level of adrenaline. You almost want to do it for them, the fact they’ve been here through thick and thin throughout all the years. Getting bowled out for 67 is obviously not ideal but they were still with us. To walk off at the end of the game after winning, we can show a lot of respect to the fans in terms of how good they were with us over these last three days.”
On the fourth day, the Test match had its fair share of thrills and spills. In the penultimate over of the Test, Jack Leach was almost run out at the non-striker’s end. Lyon also could have won an LBW decision against Stokes, but the umpire Joel Wilson adjudged it as not out. The ball-tracker later showed it was crashing into the stumps. In the same over, Stokes also just about cleared the long off fence with a loft. Stokes, on his part, disagreed that he should have been given out lbw as in his opinion, the ball was sliding down.
“I knew it wasn’t out against Jack Leach. I have seen the DRS on my lbw shout, which obviously shows up with three reds, but DRS has got that completely wrong, as it flicked my front pad first and didn’t spin. It shows how crucial it is to make sure you use your reviews. When you get to a situation like that, you still need one. If they had one they would have used it and ended up winning. I still cannot believe it was three reds. I thought, as soon as it hit me, that it was sliding down leg because there was no spin,.
“I think Jack Leach must somehow have been watching Monty Panesar at Cardiff. I could not believe when I looked up. Me and Leachy could have had a conversation, he was that close to me. He said he thought I was coming down, but I said mate, ‘I was nowhere near running’.
“That was huge panic situation there because he was so far out. Obviously in that pressure situation, it can really affect what a human does. Nine times out of ten, Nathan Lyon would pick that ball up and take the stumps off. You have got to take into account the pressure he is under there to take the ball cleanly and take the stumps off.”
With the score reading 303 for 9, Stokes also took his game to an elevated level by clubbing a switch-hit while facing Lyon. “I think I knew the tactic that Nathan Lyon was trying to bowl to me at. He was trying to hit the rough and make it really hard for me to get underneath and try and hit them. It was spinning quite a lot, so I thought that was one of only two options I had in terms of trying to hit a boundary.
“Everybody was out on the boundary. I did not fancy trying to sweep against the spin because the top-edge was massively in play there. It is a shot I have played before and I am confident of playing it. It got us to a certain point in terms of being really positive and in position to attack. As soon as a I thought about it, I committed to it.”
Leach, his batting partner, also showed the required aptitude to get through the cauldron of bubbling tensions and helped Stokes chart a win. The left-handed batsman became a cult hero for not just his invaluable undefeated 17-ball one run, but also for polishing his glasses each time he got a chance to face a ball.
“He (Leach) might get a sponsorship deal out of that! With a number 11 (around and) needing 70 to win, I knew what I had to do in terms of the game situation. The only time I started to get a little bit nervous or panicking was when we got into single figures. But those will be the most important balls Leach has ever faced, or will ever face in his Test career, the best one he’s ever got in his career. It takes two to tango in situations like that, but for a number 11 to come out under that kind of pressure and to deliver when he needed to deliver was fantastic for him to be able to do that. A lot of credit has to go to him as well for us being able to cross the line there at the end.”