Ashes 2019: Stokes is Headingley's headline act as Test cricket delivers once more

By Sports Desk August 25, 2019

It was one of the most remarkable centuries ever compiled and yet there was no raise of the bat from Ben Stokes, barely an acknowledgement of the extraordinary feat he had just achieved.

He ushered Jack Leach away from a fist bump and sheepishly flicked his hand in the direction of the England dressing room in the hope of getting them to end their applause.

Stokes was not ungrateful, just a man hellbent on his mission, and at that point the collective goal was still 33 runs away, a dot on the horizon.

"Personal milestones, especially in that situation, mean absolutely nothing," Stokes said later. "There was still a lot more runs to get."

He would strike his next two deliveries for back-to-back sixes. This was a man who had taken 83 balls to reach double figures but had traded in the Morris Minor approach for a style befitting a Ferrari, accelerating away to clinch an incredible one-wicket victory that kept the Ashes alive.

It should also be held up as the reason why Test cricket should not just remain alive, but thrive.

In an era of instant gratification, of 280 characters, of disappearing 'stories' and fast fashion, Test cricket is an outlier. It's a game viewed as too long to be consumed by the masses. Not colourful enough, not loud enough, not thrilling enough.

And yet the third Test between England and Australia was a reminder of its enduring quality. No other sport can match the steady accumulation of intrigue and tension across days, with a myriad of factors that can swing a pendulum this way and that.

How can England have been rolled for 67 inside 28 overs on Friday and then, two days later, amass 362-9? How can Stokes have led the way with 11 boundaries and eight sixes having started the day on two from 50 balls?

Perhaps it should not have been surprising, for this is swiftly turning into the English summer of Stokes.

The last time these two nations met in the Ashes, Stokes was withdrawn from consideration having been arrested for an incident following a fight outside a nightclub in Bristol. Without their talisman, England were beaten 4-0.

Stokes was later cleared of affray and, upon being told he would miss no further England matches in December 2018, he issued a statement that said he "learned lessons that will stay with me for much longer".

Just as England did at Headingley after their first-innings debacle, Stokes was given a second chance and has certainly grabbed it.

It was his brilliance in the Cricket World Cup final which delivered the trophy for England at Lord's last month, and he was the headline act again at Headingley on Sunday when making a brilliant 135 not out.

As his captain Joe Root said: "Games like that just make Test cricket the best."

Football may have 90 minutes of action-packed drama. Super Bowls might have three and a half hours of cat-and-mouse chess. But Stokes reminded everyone that nothing can beat the topsy-turvy theatre of Test match cricket when it's done right.

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