Stokes scored the fastest ton at Lord’s and took three crucial wickets in New Zealand’s 2nd innings © Getty Images
Stokes scored the fastest ton at Lord’s and took three crucial wickets in New Zealand’s 2nd innings © Getty Images

Ben Stokes at Lord’s — performances like that make Test cricket the king of games, writes Arunabha Sengupta.

The moment will linger.

Ben Stokes with his flaming red hair a glowing blaze on the green under the afternoon sun.

The ball gripped at the end of the fiercely tattooed arm. The strides hasten with the final bursts of boundless energy. The ball propelled, fast, full, straight, on the leg stump. Mark Craig’s bat comes down a trifle late, the red cherry brushes his pads and crashes into the stumps. READ: Stokes plays two career-defining knocks against New Zealand

The crowded arc of fieldsmen from wicketkeeper to second gully go up in unison. With an exultation of untold joy, Stokes erupts in ecstasy. The England fielders converge on the man of the moment in a huddle of unbridled celebration.

After four days and five hours of fickle fluctuation of fortunes, the end is in sight. The English team, 134 behind in the first innings, 232 for 4 in the second essay halfway through the fourth day, has suddenly emerged on the brink of an incredible victory in an incredible Test match. READ: Alastair Cook lauds Ben Stokes after England defeat New Zealand in 1st Test

They owe it to Stokes, the man who strode in at that No 6 the day before and hammered 101 from 92 balls with 15 fours and three sixes. He got the runs, and got them fast, grabbing the game by the collar and snatching it away from the Kiwis, giving England just enough time to close it out in a fascinating finish.

And now he is in the thick of things yet again, hitting timber, picking up his third wicket in just his eighth over. That is why the other ten have surrounded him. He is touched by something special.

Alastair Cook, whose nine-hour vigil provided the plinth on which Stokes essayed his audacious strokes, finally manages a winning smile. It is a smile forged through raging fire. READ: England defeat New Zealand by 124 runs in 1st Test at Lord’s

This is Test cricket at its very best.

Cricket needs men like Stokes. Cricket needs performances like his.

Forget the killjoys who point out that his bowling average is still in the 40s. Forget the spoilsports who say The Ashes will be a different ball-game. Forget the sceptics who insist that this Botham-like performance may not be sustained.

Ian Botham himself was anything but Botham-like through his last eight years. Botham the great never quite hit top form against the West Indies, the best side of his era. Yet, the eyes glaze over and reminiscences gush forth whenever Headingley, 1981, or that whole blessed summer for that matter, pops up in the cricketing discussions. Those moments linger. Those moments are unreal. Those moments are eternal. Those moments make cricket the fascinating game it is.

So will be the feats of Stokes — 92 off 94, 101 off 92, and then 3 for 38. A man struck by inspiration of the grandest kind. A man bestowed temporarily with the Midas touch.

It is men like Cook whose stoical play lends the supporting structure to Test cricket, without which perhaps it would crumble on its foundations. However, it is performances like that of Stokes that provide the flourish, which makes it the king of all games.

The William Scottons, Bill Woodfulls, Bill Lawrys and Geoff Boycotts have played their invaluable roles, but knocks like the Oval innings of Gilbert Jessop and the Botham belligerence of Headingley 1981 have retained the glory of the game, turned a mere sport into a tale of romance and legend.

The echoes of the sound and fury of the Twenty-Over entertainment at the other side of the world have still not died down. Yet, the heroics of Stokes at the headquarters of cricket have ensured that the longest and most traditional of formats of the game is alive, well and still the very best.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)