‘Freak’, ‘greedy schoolboy’, ‘swiss army knife’.
It now feels as though we’re all just competing to deliver the best Ben Stokes analogy, with his on-pitch performances simply a given. My own comparisons between the new #1 ranked all-rounder and a certain green Marvel character will suffice for now, until someone more high-profile inevitably thinks of it and takes it for themselves.
England have squared the series after another thrilling five-day (well, sort of) Test match. Stokesy picked up yet another man of the match award, after he hit 176 and 78*and took match figures of 3-59. Not that the stats even come close to doing it justice; Stokes’ 176 represented his longest-ever innings for England, while the 78* he hit opening the batting in England’s second attempt became the country’s quickest fifty by an opener.
If those two statistics feel a little at odds with one another, that’s because they are. Stokesy showed us all in one match that he’s really quite good at everything, and that extends beyond the boundaries of batting, bowling, and fielding. Few players now or in the history of Test cricket have the ability to change gears so seamlessly; in fact, few would even have the understanding required to even attempt it. We are truly, truly lucky to be able to watch this man play, and he seems to be getting better and better.
Of course, it wasn’t just Stokes who starred at Old Trafford in this second Test match. The returning Stuart Broad bowled beautifully once he had settled back in, and Dom Sibley’s determined knock was vital in setting the platform for England’s bowlers.
The trio of Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, and Dom Bess also played its part with the ball in what was an incredibly professional performance by a very close-knit team. The biggest concern now is surely that there are only eleven spots in a Test side. People are going to miss out on Friday who really don’t deserve to, but there are worse problems for England to have.
After the Windies won down in Southampton, it was obvious that the winner of the Wisden Trophy was anything but a foregone conclusion. With precious little to split the sides in that first encounter, the margin of victory in this outing is perhaps slightly surprising.
First-innings runs, however, will always be one of the most important components of a Test match victory. England took their time in Manchester to ensure that they got those runs and laid a foundation, and it certainly paid off. While certain commentators inexplicably decided to question the pace of Sibbers and Stokesy’s innings, the two of them went about their business and wore down the West Indies’ bowlers.
Over the course of five sessions, England batted their opponents out of the game and allowed for a positive, aggressive brand of cricket from that point on. Compare that to Southampton, where neither side was able to score much over 300, and the point of difference is obvious.
Another thriller, hopefully! The series’ third and final Test gets underway on Friday, one pitch along from the 22 yards used over the weekend. Expect a response from the Windies, and hope for more of the same from England. If we get both, we’re in for another treat.