England Believe In Miracles After Stokes Makes History

Ruben Hill
August 29, 2019

There are many possible reasons that cricket has never caught on in the United States of America in the same way that it has in the rest of the world. One of them is that it bears many similarities to baseball, which is already deeply entrenched in American culture. Another is that it takes too long, and isn’t always decisive - a game of test match cricket can be played for five entire days, and still end up in a draw, which is completely unpalatable to American audiences.

The other major criticism - and perhaps the one that’s heard most often - is that the game simply isn’t exciting enough to capture the imaginations of the American sports-viewing public. While there may be something to be said for the other two points, anyone who thinks cricket is boring clearly hasn’t been keeping up with the exploits of the England cricket team during the past few months.

From World Champions To Near Washouts

In the middle of July, England was crowned world champions in the abbreviated one-day version of the game, beating New Zealand in a stunning finale which was only settled during a 'super over' after the two teams finished level on runs scored after both innings were complete. The game came down to the final ball of the final owner, with England running out New Zealand's last man to claim the trophy in the most dramatic way imaginable. England all-rounder Ben Stokes was fearsome with both bat and ball during the final, and was rightly hailed for his performances in the aftermath of the game. Commentators spoke of the game being magical entertainment, the likes of which they didn't expect to see on a cricket field again for a long time. England has proven them wrong barely over a month later.

Things couldn't have gone much worse for the team as the third test in the bi-annual 'Ashes' competition against Australia drew to a close. The competition is contested over the course of five matches. Going into the tournament, Australia are the current champions. They won the first match. The second match was drawn. To stand any chance of turning things around, England had to win the first match. They had almost no chance of doing so.

As they started their second innings, England was chasing a target of 358 to win. That's the highest score they've ever had to chase in their history, and having been bowled out for a pathetic 67 in their first innings, the writing appeared to be on the wall for them. Australia has some of the best bowlers in the world game. England's batsmen looked rattled and beaten. The Ashes appeared to be destined to go back to Australia once more - until Ben Stokes took the game by the scruff of the neck and did something nobody thought possible.

Superlative Stokes

The last twelve months have been a rollercoaster for Stokes. His performances at the World Cup were seen as his redemption after a 2017 incident outside a nightclub led to him being arrested on suspicion of committing an assault, after an argument between Stokes, his friends, and another group of men turned violent. Stokes was caught on CCTV punching a man to the ground. The case went to trial, and it took a full year for him to be found not guilty in August 2018. As it transpired, Stokes has been acting in defense of two men who were being verbally abused by the man he'd punched. The jury sided with his version of events, and Stokes was free to resume his career. Since then, he's played like he's been making up for lost time. The World Cup victory looked like it might have been the pinnacle of his career- as it would be for most people. Instead, it appears to have been a warm-up.

On the fourth day of the third test, Stokes performed a sporting miracle. He'd come in midway through the batting order, and found himself with a mountain to climb if England were to save the Ashes. He did his best but couldn't find a steady partner to work with, as his teammates fell wicket after wicket for low scores. Eventually, Jack Leach came in to join him as the last batsman - a bowler with no batting specialty. England were still more than 70 runs adrift from their target. Victory seemed impossible.

If you're unfamiliar with how unlikely it is for a last-wicket partnership to reach such a target, consider this:- Several bookmakers stopped accepting bets on an Australian victory when Leach stepped out to partner Stokes. The odds were heavily against them that it wasn't even worth backing. There's a mobile slots game called Cricket Star, and the odds of making $70 or more on that mobile slots game from a single spin were lower than the odds of Stokes and Leach snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. A dollar spent on any mobile slots on related casinos of your choice would have been seen as a better bet than backing England at that moment. Mobile slots, statistically, will pay out the jackpot in the end. There were no such statistics in favor of England's desperate land-stand heroes. Because you're reading this article, though, you know what happened.

Jack Leach - who wiped down his glasses between every ball he faced - demonstrated a masterclass in defensive batting. He knew his one job was to survive the onslaught and get Stokes on strike, and he performed that task admirably. Stokes, when on strike, hammered his way into English legend. There have been famous English individual performances against the Australians in this fixture before - Ian Botham in 1981 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005 both spring to mind immediately - but neither of them was under as much pressure as Stokes was at the crease during those hours. With the weight of the whole country on his shoulders, he blasted Australia around the field. He had the courage to strike for fours and sixes when singles would have been easier. He rode his luck, too - he was dropped carelessly on a rare errant shot. He also survived an LBW appeal when he was caught plumb - but the umpire shook his head, and the Australians had burned up all their video reviews. Stokes survived, and single-handedly won the test for his country.

For England, it was elation and relief. For Australia, it was despondency and confusion. They had the Ashes in the palm of their hand, and somehow let them slip. Moments like these in sport can be pivotal. Momentum is everything coming into a game. As we approach the fourth test, England will believe their luck has changed. Australia will believe theirs has deserted them. The contest is wide open once more just as it appeared to have been decided - and with Ben Stokes in their team, English cricket fans have begun to believe in miracles.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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