100 up: five of Ben Stokes’s most memorable Test matches

<span>Ben Stokes produced arguably one of the greatest innings of all time to drag <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> to victory over <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Australia;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Australia</a> at Headingley in 2019.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>

2nd Test: v Australia at Perth, 2013

18 & 120, 1-63 & 2-82 (Australia won by 150 runs)

You don’t always have to win to show that you’re a winner. England’s devastating 5-0 defeat in Australia, which smashed one of their greatest teams to smithereens, had one flaming positive: it was Ben Stokes’s debut series. While most of his elders were having their spirit crushed, Stokes, flame-haired and feisty to the point of cliche, walked into Test cricket’s hottest kitchen and immediately sparked up a few more hobs. At first Australia sneered at him, assuming just another Pom to the slaughter. Stokes talked the talk, much of it in asterisks, and walked the walk with a classically brilliant fourth-innings hundred at the Waca. Stokes hit textbook straight drives, pulled the bogeyman Mitchell Johnson with breezy authority and briefly gave England hope that they could chase a target of 504. They didn’t, but Stokes earned something even rarer than an England Ashes win: the enduring respect of every single person to have worn the Baggy Green.

10th Test: v New Zealand at Lord’s 2015

92 & 101, 0-105 & 3-38 (England won by 124 runs)

A Lord’s Test for the Gods, when England overcame a huge deficit to beat a New Zealand team playing Bazball years before the word existed, was the first reveal of Stokes the swashbuckling match-winner. A rollicking 92 on the first day helped England recover from 30 for four to reach 389. They still trailed by 134 on first innings, but Stokes’s coruscating 85-ball century – the fastest at Lord’s, and the first of umpteen JFK moments during his Test career – changed the mood of the match and the national attitude towards a team who had spent much of the previous two years in the doghouse. On a feelgood final day, Stokes dismissed Kane Williamson, the man most likely to save the game, and Brendon McCullum, the man most likely to win it, with consecutive deliveries. It wouldn’t be the last time he seized both the moment and the match.

55th Test: v Australia at Headingley, 2019

8 & 135*, 1-45 & 3-56 (England won by one wicket)

Nietzsche would have liked Ben Stokes. He has consistently found both strength and growth in adversity. The Bristol court case made him a wiser, slightly wearier man; the death of his father, Ged, gave Stokes a perspective and a professional mindset that would make him a gazillionaire if he could bottle it. And Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes to win the 2016 World T20 final shaped Stokes instead of defining him. Not with the ball – he has hardly bowled at the death since – but as a batsman. The experience taught Stokes that, if you take a game deep enough, the unthinkable can happen. He soon realised that nerve-shredding finishes roused something in him – a defiant virtuosity that is beyond his fellow immortals, never mind mere mortals. Six weeks after a once-in-a-lifetime miracle in the World Cup final of 2019, Stokes produced another to keep the Ashes alive at Headingley. No innings in Test history has crescendoed like this. Stokes scored three runs from his first 73 balls, 58 from the next 104 and 74 from the last 42 – including seven lusty yet clear-headed sixes – in a bromance-sparking partnership of 76 with Jack Leach. Before he walked on water, Stokes carried it with a spell of 24.2 overs that was broken only by four deliveries from Jofra Archer. Stokes’s marathon was born of masochism, maybe a bit of martyrdom and almost certainly a lot of self-flagellation after a poor first-innings shot. Stokes took three for 56 to ensure England’s victory target was almost rather than completely impossible.

61st Test: v South Africa at Cape Town, 2020

47 & 72, 0-34 & 3-35 (England won by 189 runs)

Judging Stokes by statistics is as misguided as trying to quantify love. In the Cape Town Test of 2020, he was the third-highest runscorer and the joint fourth-highest wicket-taker; he was also the undisputed player of the match. There have been many more spectacular performances, not least a computer-game 258 on the same ground in 2016 – but England went on to draw that game, so what was the point. Four years later Stokes’s selfless, barnstorming 72 from 47 balls set up a declaration while also allowing Dom Sibley to make a maiden Test century without leaving his comfort zone. A day later, in the final hour of the match, Stokes willed the last three wickets to square the series. Stokes lives for the final act, when everything is on the line, and it’s hard to believe any England player has decided so many matches when time, runs or wickets were about to run out. There is one Stokes statistic that feels relevant. In the first innings of England Test victories he averages 39 with the bat and 30 with the ball, not much better than his career record. In the second innings his averages are 48 and 21. It’s not quite the meaning of love for England fans, but it does speak to some of their fondest memories.

87th Test: v Pakistan at Rawalpindi, 2022

41 & 0, 0-35 & 1-69 (England won by 74 runs)

Stokes should have been player of the match in this one too, and he did bugger all with bat or ball. England’s astounding injury-time victory, on a pitch so flat it could have produced a draw in a timeless Test, was the ultimate demonstration of Stokes’s tactical genius and unrelenting positivity. Nasser Hussain called it the finest five days of captaincy he had ever seen. There were 1,768 runs in the match, a record for a Test with a positive result. A virus-ridden England scored an eye-popping 506 of them on the first day in only 75 overs; it was Bazball on metaphorical steroids. In the field, Stokes trusted every hunch and rejected every norm. His wicket-taking ploys included an umbrella field, preferring leg slip to orthodox and turning down the new ball. He didn’t allow the match to drift or his brain to rest for a single delivery. By the time Jack Leach – a naturally cautious spinner who had flowered into a wicket-taker under Stokes – won the match with barely minutes remaining, England had eight men and the wicketkeeper round the bat.