Why Ben Stokes didn’t score the best test match innings ever
In the end, it was to no avail, and the Ashes now remain in the hands of Australia. However, no one who witnessed the innings that Ben Stokes played in the third test will ever forget what they saw. It won England a game that they looked odds-on favourites to lose. But was it the best test match innings ever?
What makes a Cricket great innings?
Now you might think that the easy answer is scoring a lot of runs. That’s not necessarily the case, though; several factors must be considered. A high-scoring innings played by Brian Lara on a flat wicket that doesn’t help the bowlers isn’t necessarily a great innings.
The conditions favour the batsman, and if they are good enough, then a high score is on the cards. When the conditions are more in favour of the bowler, then higher praise can be given to the batsman who piles on the runs.
Then there’s the innings that wins a team a match. That’s what happened at Headingley in the third test, known as the Participation Test, though it needed some help from stubborn 11th-man Jack Leach. There have been many comparisons with the incredible innings played by Sir Ian Botham at the same ground in 1981. As good as that innings was, it didn’t win the match for England, the eight wickets Bob Willis took on the final day did that.
Stokes wins the day
When Ben Stokes came to the crease in the third test, England were again in deep trouble. They required 359 to win, and few teams score over 300 in the final innings to win a test match. However, this was no normal run chase as the fourth innings of the match began late on the third day when the pitch was still in reasonably good condition after only 154 overs of play.
On the fourth day, England were favourites after progressing to 245-4, just 114 short with a day and a half to get them. They could have got them in singles, but England seemed to be treating the test like a one-day game. A policy that often brings disaster for them.
Stokes took chance after chance and could have been out several times. Anyone who likes an occasional bet on cricket had a roller-coaster trying to forecast what would happen. But for Australia having used their reviews, Stokes would have been out LBW close to the end. It was a great innings, and if he can repeat that performance in the final game, then the England test match odds will look tempting. Before a ball was bowled, they had drifted to 31/20 for the Oval Test.
So, was Stokes’ third test score the greatest of all-time? Probably not.
Gooch to the rescue
Headingley isn’t just all about Stokes and Botham. 1991 saw England up against a fearsome West Indian pace attack. It proved to be another match where the batsman struggled with only two half-centuries in the first innings.
England took a lead of 25 into the second innings, but Sir Curtly Ambrose was in frightening form, taking six wickets as the home side managed 252 after being 124-6. There was one reason they got that many, and it was all down to England captain Graham Gooch.
He carried his bat for 154 not out despite the barrage of short-pitched bowling from the West Indies. England went on to win the match and that 154 was just 19 less than the highest score their opponents managed in this match. Now that’s a great test innings, a batsman scoring in adverse conditions against one of the best pace attacks ever seen in test cricket.
A sticky time for the Don
Producing a class innings when the pressure is on is a great performance. In the 1936/37 season, the legendary Sir Don Bradman had been in uncharacteristic poor form with two ducks in four innings. Now captain of Australia, his team had lost two tests in a row and even worse, they were against England. He’d suffered personal tragedy, too, with the loss of a child a day after birth.
The third test in Melbourne was to prove an astonishing one. Bradman scored 13 in the first innings, and then rain created a sticky wicket due to lack of covers with England only managing 76-9 in their first innings.
Bradman let his tail bat first in the dodgy conditions, and he came in at number seven. Over three days, Bradman battled away, scoring 270 for his team. Oh, and he was battling a bout of flu at the same time! Australia went on to win the test thanks to this incredible innings and the series 3-2. It’s hard to judge what is the best test innings ever, but this performance must be right up there.
Stokes’ performance was good, but it was nothing compared to Bradman’s effort.