Ben Stokes’ Brilliance Helps England Level The Series

There is little that Benjamin Stokes cannot do on the cricket field. He scores runs with the bat, gives breakthroughs with the ball and often plucks blinders on the field. Even by his high standards, the all-rounder has had a glorious last one year. It was in July last year when Stokes’ heroics in the final helped England clinch their first ever ODI world cup. A month later, in the dramatic Ashes test at Headingley, he held his nerve to snatch victory from an almost-certain defeat. And now, in the second test against the West Indies at Old Trafford, he affirmed his position as the best cricketer on the planet with an inspired performance that drove England to a 113-run win, and kept them in contention for a series win.

England didn’t have the most auspicious of build-ups to the test match, as paceman Jofra Archer was dropped from the side after he breached the team’s biosecurity protocols. Archer made an unauthorised visit to his home in Brighton. James Anderson and Mark Wood were rested for the game, which meant England donned an entirely new pace attack comprising Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran. Captain Joe Root returned after missing the first test, replacing Joe Denly. The West Indies, meanwhile, felt no need for changes after their impressive victory in the first test, and went in with the same line-up.

West Indies won the toss and put England in first, a move likely inspired by their pacers’ clinical performance at Southampton. This time, however, England were up to the challenge. Opener Dom Sibley impressed all with a gritty 372-ball 120. The young batsman has had a promising start to his international career, averaging just over 44 after 8 tests with 2 centuries under his belt. The star of the innings though was undoubtedly Stokes. Stokes joined Sibley in the middle when England were 81 for 3, and the two stitched a 260-run partnership. Stokes carried on after Sibley fell, before finally being dismissed for 176. Lower order contributions by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler (40) and Dom Bess (31) took England to a daunting 469.

In reply, the West Indies were 32 for 1 at stumps on day two. With the whole of the third day washed out by rain, they resumed on day four and huffed and puffed to 287, courtesy half centuries by Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase. Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes starred for England with three wickets apiece. Stokes provided the important breakthrough of Brathwaite, when the latter looked settled on 75.

With just over a day of play left and two innings to go, the game seemed to be increasingly heading towards a draw. England, however, had different plans. Having secured a first innings lead of 182, they sent in their two most explosive batsmen, Stokes and Jos Buttler, to open the innings and score quick runs. Unfortunately Buttler fell for a third-ball duck, but Stokes carried on his form from the first innings and belted a 57-ball 78. England declared early on the fifth day, giving them 85 overs in the day to bowl the West Indies out.

West Indies stumbled early in their chase of 312, having been reduced to 37 for four. Shamarh Brooks and Jermaine Blackwood then steadied the ship, and for a brief while it looked as if the two would steer the West Indies to safety. But once again, it was that man Stokes who broke the partnership, getting Blackwood caught behind for 55. The Windies folded for 198, with Ollie Pope taking a sharp reflex catch at short leg to win the game for England.

Ben Stokes’ tally for the game came to a phenomenal 254 runs, 3 crucial wickets and a catch. Stokes is now the top-ranked test all-rounder in world cricket and is placed at number three in the test batting rankings. Stuart Broad, who was vocal about being “frustrated, angry and gutted” after being dropped in the first test, made a strong case for himself with three wickets in each innings.

With the series now level 1-1, the third and final test will be the series decider. Despite their resounding win, England will be looking to address a few chinks in their armour. Rory Burns, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler haven’t quite fired with the bat. The West Indies, meanwhile, will be fretting over the poor form of Shai Hope.

The third test begins on Friday, July 24 at Old Trafford. Indian fans can catch live action on Sony Six or live-stream on SonyLIV.

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