Brian Lara won the match for the West Indies in Bridgetown, scoring an unbeaten innings of 153 in the company of Courtney Walsh, a real rookie with the bat. Wisden rated it “as the second-best test innings in the annals of test history; next only to 270 scored by Bradman against England Ashes test match of 1937-38”. Muttiah Muralitharan rates Brian Lara as the toughest opponent of all batsmen of his generation, which include Kallis, Sachin and Ponting.
Nobody was more elegant and played the spinners on a turning wicket as well as Brian Charles Lara. When Lara was facing the closing overs from McGrath & Gillespie in full cry, Garfield Sobers was pacing upon down in the Bridgetown cricket balcony, huffing and puffing. He had no hesitation in acknowledging after the match that he could not have played such a phenomenal innings!
Garfield Sobers is considered the greatest test match all-rounder of all times. He scored a superb 132 in the tied Test at Brisbane in 1960. One of his sixes off Ian Mackiff went over the bowler’s head and landed at the feet Sir Donald Bradman, who was watching the match. This was Sobers’s way of paying obeisance to the greatest test batsman of all times. In 1972, as captain of the Rest of the World’s team against Australia, Sobers pummelled Lilee & Co. to all parts of the Melbourne cricket ground to score 254. Donald Bradman considered this, innings as the best innings he has seen on Australian soil, surpassing Stan McCabe, mastery 187 in the bodyline series of 1930.
Lara & Sobers, as lefthanders, could turn the tide of the match; as did Ian Botham, the all-round, to score 149 not out to win England a test match at Leeds in 1981, after England was asked to follow-on by the Australians. Botham is considered the greatest all-rounder that England has produced. However, the way Ben Stokes won the match for England, scoring 135 not out on 25th August 2019, possibly makes him the likely challenger to the throne of best all-rounder of England in the days to come.
As a Southpaw, his innings seems to have eclipsed Lara’s match-winning innings of 153 (1999) and Sobers’s 254 against the Australians (1972). When Leach, the last batsman joined Stokes, he was batting at 61 and was trying to save England from a certain defeat. Leach’s record till then was a surreal summer, when he scored 92 against Ireland in 2019, to win a match. However, no one believed that Leach would repeat that innings, the way he was wiping his glasses, every time Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson were having a go at him. He would possibly preserve his 1 not out in this match as a better innings than the 92 he scored against Ireland!
Benjamin Andrew Stokes is the son of a rugby player and coach who shifted to England from Christ Chruch. Stokes has always been mercurial with incredible potential. He was the highest-paid player in the IPL league in 2017. Unfortunately, he was involved in a brawl after the third ODI against West Indies at Bridgetown and was arrested. He was finally let off in 2018, paying a fine of $20000. He has also been accused of mimicking Katie Price’s disabled son for which he later apologised. Ben Stoke’s personality has a resemblance with Ian Botham, who was suspended from the game for taking marijuana.
Possibly because of the scars, he sustained after the prolonged courtroom battle over his street brawl, he did not perform to his potential in the IPL (2019). However, the World Cup 2019 was a different kettle of fish. His 89 runs against South Africa in the opening match and the catch he took to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo is considered as the greatest catch of the World Cup tournament. In the final match against New Zealand, he scored 84 not out, with two sixes in the final over to ensure that England wins in the match. In the match yesterday, he pummelled Hazlewood for 17 runs in one over.
He hit 8 sixes in all and quite a few rasping drives which the fielders in the deep could either hold nor stop! Serendipitously Ricky Ponting was commentating at the time when Ben Stokes was on a rampage. Asked to compare between the innings of Lara (1999) and Stokes, he said: “it was one of the best innings played by a test batsman”. Since it comes from one of the best test men of this generation who has remarkable centuries to his credit against real adversity like the third test against England in 2005, the compliment could not have been more apt.
There is always a debate as to who is the greatest all-rounder of all times. The following statistics of five top-class all-rounder’s can be truly revealing.
Based on the above, it is a toss-up between Sobers and Kallis. However, data can be deceptive. It is more important to assess how the all-rounder has turned the match on its head. Sobers was the most impactful player in the series against England (1966), with a test average of 103.14, 20 wickets and 10 catches. In comparison, Kallis was extremely doughty but never won South Africa a series. On the other hand, Imran Khan made a decisive impact in the year 1982-83 and in the World Cup of (1992). Botham was equally impactful in 1981-82 series.
Based on his performance of 2019, Ben Stokes seems to be following the footsteps of Sir Garfield Sobers, Imran Khan and Ian Botham. He appears to be the best all-rounder England has produced, surpassing the recent of Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, who had phenomenon outing in the series against the Australians in 2004-05.
Without any disrespect to the Don Bradman, he clearly flinched and failed against the fast bowling of Harold Larwood and Michael Frederick Voce in the (1930-31). Jack Hobbs, who was commentating on the series had observed that “he was moving away from the ball, clearly showing he was afraid of short-pitched bowling”. Lara, in contrast, played admirably well against two of the best bowlers of Australia, McGrath and Gillespie. Ben Stokes faced the pace trio of Hazlewood, Cummins and Pattinson with enormous disdain and certitude. He hooked, pulled, drove and lofted them. The fielders in deep either failed to hold or could not stop.
It is ironical that Nathan Lyon, a phlegmatic character, could not run out Leach when he was way out of the crease. He froze, the way Allan Donald of South Africa did, in the semi-finals of the World Cup against Australia (1999). History, unfortunately, repeated itself, for Australia. It was sad that Ben Stokes, though trapped by Nathan Lyon on the last ball was not given out. The finger of umpire Joel Wilson failed to appear, despite the vicious appeal. The replay subsequently showed that Stokes was out and Australia had no review option left. This is the irony of the game of cricket when true champions rise like a phoenix from the ashes of defeat and script cricketing history.
Most cricketing aficionados believe that test cricket is real cricket, and pyjama cricket is passe. There is also a perception that test cricket is at the brink of the precipice, as it is not commercially viable like IPL. However, way the crowd at Leads filled the stadium to the brim and every defensive shot of survival by Leach and the scorching drives of Ben Stokes was lapped up, proved that test cricket, with the right blend of lively pitch, scorching pace bowlers and marauding batsmen like Stokes can make cricket a cocktail of fantasy, and flamboyance. The southpaws like Sobers, Lara and Stoke are unique in the game; with their flair and fervour!
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