Today was another “Cricket, am I right?” or “Cricket, blood hell” day. We have been gifted a lot of these this summer. But what happened at Headingley this weekend is easily the most remarkable thing that’s happened on a cricket field in a very, very long time. At least since I started paying attention to the sport in 2007.
If you are reading this, then I don’t need to tell you what happened. But just in case, here’s the moment as it happened from the Cricinfo ball-by-ball commentator:
Cummins to Stokes, FOUR runs, there it is! Flayed through the covers, Stokes has completed the Miracle of Headingley Part II! Holy hand grenades, Stokes is a monster! He throws his arms wide and roars! England win by one wicket and the series is level in the most heart-stopping fashion imaginable!
And, also, if you reading this, then go read some of the better recaps on the day. I don’t have the words to describe what Ben Stokes did out there. Above I said it’s the most remarkable thing to happen on a cricket field in a long time, but honestly maybe the best thing to happen in all of sport in a very long time. Just off the top of my head: there was Lebron winning the NBA championship with Cleveland. That’s really the only one that really sticks out in recent years. And I am not even a basketball fan. I think Stokes’ performance honestly can be called one of the greatest individual triumphs in all of sport’s history. That sounds hyperbolic, but I believe it just might be true.
There will be hundreds of articles about Stokes in the coming days. Some of them will read like poetry, or love letters. And, down the road, there will probably be books written about the Headingley miracle too. It will definitely take up the bulk of the 2020 Wisden, probably even more than England’s World Cup win earlier this summer. Because Stokes’ performance was just that almost unbearably remarkable. It transcends almost that entire tournament. And the Ashes are most definitely back on the table, after most pundits thinking it was all but over on Friday afternoon. But in true cricket style, England’s all out for 66 feels like a million years ago now. The game swayed back in forth in heavy wind for all five days. And then somehow improbably ended with Stokes hitting a boundary in the long shadows of a late summer’s afternoon.
135 not out off of 219 balls. Batting all told for five and a half hours.
Lost in all the (super justified) ink about to spilled on Ben Stokes is the performances of two men: Jack Leach and Jofra Archer. Stokes is the hero of the day, but you can’t win in cricket alone, no matter how great a day you’re having. You need someone at other end of the crease. Someone who can hold their nerve and get you the strike back. Jos Buttler only helped out with nine deliveries before he fell. Chris Woakes eight. Stuart Broad two. Archer — after his wonderful day with the ball earlier in the Test — saw 33. Hanging in there for over 45 minutes. Leach, though, went out into the middle of the field, in the simmering cauldron of the Ashes, knowing that his was the last wicket available. If he lost it, England wouldn’t just lose the match, they would probably lose the series, the Ashes. So he put up his defense and hung out against one of the best bowing attacks in the world for an hour. He only saw 17 balls and only scored one run. But defended his wicket and efficiently got Stokes back on strike whenever possible. It was of course nowhere near Stokes’ accomplishment, but for a bowler to go out there and keep steady and allow Stokes to win the game, to be the hero, was inspiring to watch. An hour, just 17 balls, which means he was on average only seeing a delivery once every five minutes. That’s a lot of waiting, a lot of running between wickets, and then all of a sudden Pat Cummins is bowling at you and your wicket is all that stands between Australia and the Ashes.
I will never be a Ben Stokes. He is one of those rare genius athletes that is just better than all of us. But we can all be Jack Leach’s. Do our jobs, work hard, celebrate the genius of a teammate, help them lift up the whole world. He’s a hero too. And his glasses and his smile make him seem almost human, unlike Stokes, who looks and feels like a superhero. We all love humanity in our athletes. And Leach was human today. Vulnerable, but still getting up every day, and doing what he can to keep all the hope possible alive.
An hour. 17 balls. One run. I hope he enjoyed his post-match beer.