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Ben Stokes: The ecstasy beneath the agony

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26th August, 2019
34

Is it possible to simultaneously feel elation and deep despair?

Is there even a word for this excruciating affliction?

Ben Stokes has just played the most dishearteningly magnificent innings I have ever suffered through in my cricketing life.

I am old enough to remember Ian Botham’s ‘give em some humpty’ slog-fest at Headingley in ’81. But most of it occurred when I was curled up in bed. I also remember Brian Lara’s sublime 153 not out at Barbados in ’99, but I was either snoring or driving to work through most of it.

By contrast, I saw the whole of Stokes’ truly extraordinary innings. Every assured, determined and defiant defensive shot. Every blazing, exhilarating and glorious stroke to, or beyond, the boundary rope.

There was a certainty to Stokes’ innings which I found unnerving, even as English wickets finally began to fall. This was the stuff of mythic destiny.

That he batted with such caution for so long was worrying. That he battered the boundary with such frequency, with the last man at the wicket, was soul-destroying.

And, like any life-affirming Shakespearean drama, there was self-inflicted tragedy. A couple of half-chances. A muffed run-out. An ill-advised DRS review which left the Aussies defenceless to bad umpiring when it mattered.

When Stokes smashed the final ball to the cover boundary, I buried my head in my hands. Yet when I looked up again and saw my nemesis standing in the middle of Headingley, emitting a primordial roar of glorious conquest, I felt nothing but profound admiration.

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Ben Stokes

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Stokes is not a player I have warmed to in the past. But he’s turned me around. This was an innings of much mastery and of such majesty that you have to stand and applaud. If you can’t find that within yourself, then you’re a nark.

This is why we love Test cricket.

As the World Cup final demonstrated, there is excitement, pathos and heroics to be found in the limited-overs format.

But no other form of the game – or any other sport – is capable of creating the same inexorable, slow-burn, spine-jangling, nerve-tweaking, heart-gasping, palm-sweating, tension-snapping, passionate excitement of a gripping, ebb-and-flow Test match.

And this one had everything. From Jofra Archer’s menace in dim conditions on Day 1, to the Aussie bowling rampage on Day 2, to Australia’s grinding ascendancy on Day 3, to the most astonishing English redemption on Day 4.

This is why we love Test cricket.

And this is why, beneath the anguished sorrow I feel at a missed opportunity which may not come again, there is an unexpected rapture bubbling away in my cricket-loving heart.

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Ben Stokes, you magnificent bastard!