West Indies vs. England: Wild Ben Stokes meets a masterful century


It will come as no surprise to hear that England’s best Test cricket day in a long time came after a return to form of one of their waiting greats.

And no, that last bit isn’t presumptuous. Because Ben Stokes will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most influential cricketers in the country based on his past performances and comprehensive statistics. Just as memories of just how effective he can be were beginning to blur, the 30-year-old produced a classic performance to put England’s odds of victory in that second Test in Barbados.

With 120 of 128 deliveries, his 11th Test hundred, he shook the West Indies to the core and allowed the Tourists to declare their first innings to 507 for nine with as much of the game still to play, even 27 overs on the second day. Enough time for debutant Matt Fisher to take a wicket with his second ball in Test cricket and for the hosts to make it a solid 71-1.

There are ways to count centuries and there are Ben Stokes ways to count centuries. And the beauty of the latter lies in its wildness. The first 89 runs came from 92 deliveries, all in a morning session of 125: The majority of his 11 fours and six sixes came in a passage that felt like a match turn even this early. Joe Root, at 153, a culpable observer. And beneath the thrill of it all was the emotion Stokes carried as he jabbed a single in the side of his leg to get to 100 from the number 114 ball. Looking up at the sky with relief and gratitude, he gave this fingerless salute to his father Ged, who died in December 2020 after a battle with brain cancer. This was Ben’s first century since.

In some ways, dismissing Dan Lawrence for the very last ball of day one could have been a blessing. Stokes then had the evening to prepare for the following morning, a luxury number five batters rarely, if ever, afforded. Not that Stokes ever suffered from a lack of motivation or desire to get into the middle.

Ben Stokes hits a six while bowling Veerasammy Permaul

(Action pics via Reuters)

Since Stokes returned to the side after a break due to physical and psychological reasons, he has been following the game to some extent. He threw himself in the Ashes uncooked, averaging just a 23.6 with the bat and bowling himself into the ground so much that he arrived in the Caribbean with uncertainty as to whether he would be able to bowl enough, to be considered an all-rounder. Then of course he sent 41 overs down in the first test and was the most effective on the show.

But batting the way he does, especially on a team that’s not exactly doing that well, has always been the most important aspect of his game on this reset tour. And amidst the rounds of outfields leading up, he was in the nets for hours rediscovering his touch. One that was unparalleled on Thursday morning in Bridgetown.

After a good night’s sleep and 244 for three behind him, Stokes hit the bull’s eye and saw his 11th delivery for four on the floor. A straight six – right after a reverse sweep – in front of Veerasamy Permaul took England past 300. Another off by the same bowler put him on 51 of 73 deliveries.

Ben Stokes of England hits a four

(AFP via Getty Images)

For a moment, a century watched in session. He’d done it before in that epic 2015 Newlands v South Africa, in a 258 eerily similar to the nature of his stroke play here, pushing anything and everything to the limit. The 114th ending was the explosion of fireworks: Alzarri Joseph, the unfortunate soul at the wrong end. Three fours started the over before ending with a bold six straight across the floor, with Stokes completely off his feet for a moment like he was jumping into a Street Fighter-style uppercut.

It put Stokes on 87 (from just 89 balls) and on the all-rounders’ top chart to have 5,000 Test runs and more than 150 wickets, now requiring a fifth-place finish. He joins Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Sir Garfield Sobers, who stood in the stands to watch over the newest candidate.

Meanwhile, on the other end, with the best view in the house, Root was quietly polishing his 12th score of 150 or more. And it was saying a lot that, despite his own brilliance, the fact he faced nine of the last 12 deliveries by lunchtime, meaning Stokes went into the break at 89, carried a hint of disappointment. On the other hand, a delay in the start of the proceedings due to defective viewing windows could also be held responsible.

Matthew Fisher took his first wicket in Test cricket on the second day

(Action pics via Reuters)

Root was sent off after seven balls in the afternoon session and awarded as LBW to Kemar Roach after review. With that, Stokes played it safe in three digits, pulling out the remaining 11 of 14 balls and culminating in a tip-and-run to get him over the line.

The morning beast awoke after Jonny Bairstow (20) drove Joseph to Nkrumrah Bonner in Deep Square Leg. Following this, Stokes Kraigg triggered Brathwaite’s leisurely off-spin into the midwicket and (just) too long for consecutive sixes. A hat trick attempt fell into the nervous hands of Shamarh Brooks.

The ovation as he strode away was one of gratitude: for the spectacle and the position he had carved out on his own. At 424 for six, with most of 50 overs to go on day two, England were ahead while the West Indies trailed behind.

Chris Woakes (41) and Ben Foakes (33) capitalized on a beleaguered attack and scored 58 points together to bring the Tourists to the tee with 482 for six. Foakes was stumped after the break, and Woakes soon followed with a mistimed hook, but not before swiping Roach for a four on the square leg to put England over 500 (126 of 35.5 overs) Root called them all-in.

West Indies’ Kraigg Brathwaite hits four

(AFP via Getty Images)

Fisher shared the new ball with Woakes, Fisher’s first delivery was carved to the offside boundary by Campbell before the left-hander flicked a cross to Foakes for the Yorkshireman’s first red card. Fisher came close to a second as Brooks edged to Zak Crawley, but low enough that the bottom supported the catch and was subsequently ruled “not out” after a referee check.

His colleague Saqib Mahmood was brought on after 17 overs and bowled properly. By this point Brathwaite (28 not out) and Brooks (31) had settled down and made it to Stumps with a solid 57 and good order counts. The fact that they are 436 behind must be ignored if they are to avoid defeat in this test.

Of particular interest going forward was the encouragement in the pitch for Leach. Turn and even variable bounce, both of which almost saw Brathwaite’s back. A check that revealed a thin outer edge saved the opener. But it was the kind of delivery that will haunt everyone’s mind going forward, not just his. West Indies vs. England: Wild Ben Stokes meets a masterful century

Andrew Schnitker

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