The sporting summer of 2019 will forever be remembered for two days when beating hot sun fell on English cricketing turf in London and Leeds.
One English cricketer was cast in a story of redemption. That man was Ben Stokes.
The summer began in inauspicious circumstances. Successive defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia left qualification for the World Cup semi-finals in the balance. It was rescued in a 31-run victory over India.
Australia were embarrassed to such an extent in an eight-wicket thrashing in the semi-finals that the main character of our story didn’t even use his bat at Edgbaston.
Three days later in the final at Lord’s, however, he definitely did.
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After 50 overs each, New Zealand and England were tied in the Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s.
Even after a Super Over each, the two were tied. England were champions of the cricketing world courtesy of nine boundaries.
“England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins! By the barest of all margins!” screamed the former New Zealand cricketer Ian Smith on commentary.
New Zealand knocked a respectable 241, meaning England needed a joint-second highest Cricket World Cup final run chase to win the tournament.
Joe Root could only manage single figures and Jason Roy went for just 17. England floundered to 71-3 with almost 20 overs played.
Enter, as would be repeated throughout the summer, Ben Stokes.
Stokes had formed an impressive fifth wicket stand with Jos Buttler, but had to prop up the England bowlers.
It was a man of the match performance that included precision, skill and, perhaps most importantly, two incredible strokes of luck.
England were within 21 of their target with nine balls remaining. An attempt at a six fell into the catching hands of Trent Boult. England’s dreams of a first World Cup had evaporated. Boult took a step back, however, onto the boundary. A six. First bit of luck.
Second bit of luck: with nine remaining off three balls, Stokes needs to run two to regain strike. The precision fielding clatters the ball off the edge of Ben Stokes’ bat and away onto the boundary. Another six.
Stokes’ 84 followed by another eight in the Super Over was effectively the difference between England and New Zealand on July 14.
Barely a month had passed between the two biggest sporting events of the summer. The same main characters, at least for England, played their part.
Australia had romped to a first Edgbaston Test win in 18 years to kick off the Ashes before weather got in the way of England tying the series up at Lord’s.
Smith was in somewhat of redemption story himself. He had been stripped of the Australian captaincy for his part in the ball-tampering scandal the previous year and was banned for 12 months.
The Australian batsman returned to average over a hundred with the bat before he was struck with a Jofra Archer bouncer in the second Test.
The Ashes returned to Headingley for the first time in a decade on August 22.
Due to Australia’s victory in the 2017/18 series, England needed at least a draw to avoid an Ashes capitulation.
That capitulation seemed in full flow by the close of play on day two. England had been bowled out for 67, their lowest Ashes total in 71 years. Australia set England with the task of finding 358 runs.
If England were to do it, it would be their highest ever Test run chase.
Ben Stokes came to the crease with England at 141/3. Bairstow and Buttler both fell with England needing more than a century.
Woakes, Archer and Broad were all at the mercy of the Australia attack. England needed 72 to win the Test.
Stokes declared England’s intent immediately with a fine six down the ground.
Across from Stokes was an unlikely hero in the right place at the right time. Jack Leach, the England number 11, withstood an entire hour of the Australian bowlers. He wiped his glasses clean after every delivery. For a series sponsored by Specsavers, the company had struck gold with Leach’s performance.
The tactic was clear, get Stokes on strike and see out the match. Stokes smashed 19 boundaries on the way to an unbeaten 135. England’s newest cult hero Jack Leach would get a solitary run.
And in the impossible 72-run 10th wicket stand, England completed their highest successful Test run chase and levelled the series up at 1-1.
It was a transformation of Herculean effort from Stokes’ suspension of the 2017/18 Ashes series, to bringing the entire country to a standstill twice in a single summer.
The Australian antagonist Steve Smith would return for the third act to leave a bittersweet taste in England’s mouth. Smith was the difference maker in Australia’s first successful Ashes series in England since 2001.
England would force a first Ashes series draw since 1972, but it wasn’t the Hollywood happy ending they wanted.
There was no doubt, however, that England had enjoyed a fine cricketing summer.