Stokes’ strokes of genius reminded me of the Kolkata thriller

By Kersi Meher-Homji

Two days have passed since the epic Leeds thriller between England and Australia and I am still in shock. I was ecstatic when England chasing 359 for an unlikely win lost their ninth wicket at 286. In walked last man Jack Leach; bespectacled, balding and shaking with nerves.

With England still needing 73 for a win, I jumped with joy telling my wife, “We have won!”

That is when Ben Stokes took over. And I mean “took over”, hitting fours and sixes galore as Australia misfielded in utter panic, Nathan Lyon fluffing an easy run out and the umpire making a howler.

But no excuses. Stokes was magnificent, hitting boundaries or twos in the first four balls of an over then taking a single off the last or second last balls to shield Leach who was shivering like a leaf in a storm. Of the76 runs added for the last unbroken stand, Leach contributed only one.

Unperturbed, Stokes hit a four and England won by one wicket to draw the series level at one-all. A win for Australia and they would have retained the Ashes.

Shabash Stokes!

This incredible nail-biter and spine tingler reminded me of the Kolkata Test of March 2001 when Australia also lost an unlosable Test to India.

The Second Test in Kolkata will go down in cricket history as one of the greatest. Australia amassed 445 mainly through Matthew Hayden’s 97 and Steve Waugh’s 110. But from 4 for 252, Australia tumbled to 7 for 252 as Harbhajan Singh took a hat-trick. He claimed the wickets of Ricky Ponting for 6 and of Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne for ducks. The last three wickets then added 176 runs. The twists and turns of the amazing Test had started.

On a good pitch the Indian batsmen found ways to get out as Glenn McGrath captured 4 for 18 in 14 overs. VVS Laxman top-scored with 59 as India was all out for 171 and was forced to follow on. His lone resistance made India’s captain Sourav Ganguly promote Laxman from number 6 to number 3. And what an inspired move this turned out to be!

Trailing by 274 runs India was 4 down for 232, still 42 runs in arrears when Rahul Dravid joined VVS Laxman. The two elegant Indians rewrote many records as they added a massive 376 for the sixth wicket. They batted together for 104 overs including the entire fourth day when they sparkled with 335 runs in 90 overs.

Man of the Match VVS’s 281 was a masterpiece and the then highest by an Indian in Test cricket. It included 44 fours. Dravid was run out for a chanceless 180 including 21 fours. It was awe-inspiring just to watch their master class, bringing India from hopelessness into glory. Later Steve Waugh described VVS’s performance as “some of the best batting I’ve ever seen”.

Ganguly declared at 7 for 657 with a lead of 383 runs and everyone thought the match would be drawn as Australia had to bat for only 75 overs on a pitch that was turning but not devilish. However, Harbhajan thought differently. He captured 6 for 73 and Sachin Tendulkar 3 for 31 including Gilchrist’s wicket for a duck and Australia was all out for 212 to lose by 171 runs. It was a match to forget for Gilchrist and Warne, who made zeros in both innings. Mark Waugh and Ponting also joined the ”˜duck club’.

The 2001 series was entrancingly level at 1-1. Just like the current Australia – England series.

The fourth Ashes Test starts at Old Trafford in Manchester on 4th September. Will the presence of Steven Smith inspire Australia to win? Or will Stokes start from where he left off in Leeds?

More sleepless nights for Aussies down under!

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