Ben Stokes played another magnificent innings which revived memories of his heroic Ashes Test-winning knock at Headingley four years ago but on a sunny afternoon at Lord’s on Sunday he was unable to finish the job.
The left-hander bludgeoned nine fours and nine sixes in his 155, dragging England from 45-4 to 301-6 in their pursuit of 371 for a victory that would have levelled the series against Australia at 1-1.
Trying to hit Josh Hazlewood for another maximum, however, he skied a catch to wicketkeeper Alex Carey, the man who had controversially stumped Jonny Bairstow, and Australia wrapped up victory by 43 runs.
Australia batter Steve Smith admitted his team’s thoughts had turned to Leeds in 2019 when Stokes conjured up an astonishing victory with an innings of 135 not out and a last-wicket partnership of 76 with Jack Leach.
“It was a bit of deja vu for sure,” Smith said.
“He’s an unbelievable player, some of the things he can pull off. The way he went about it, he was pretty much just trying to hit one way. He’s a freak.”
Smith was particularly pleased that Stokes failed to inspire another England win after spilling a routine catch off him when he was on 114.
“I dropped him so I was glad we got him in the end. I didn’t pick it up initially, it’s hard square of the wicket when he’s going hard,” Smith said.
“The way he plays, chasing totals, he gets it done. It was just an incredible knock.”
Stokes’ main support at Lord’s came from Stuart Broad who contributed 11 to their century seventh-wicket partnership.
The tall pace bowler rose to the challenge, goading Carey by holding his bat in his crease and staring pointedly at the stumps to remind the wicketkeeper about his stumping of Bairstow after the batsman walked up the wicket at the end of the over.
That fired up the crowd and Stokes immediately went on the attack, hitting Cameron Green for three sixes in an over to bring up his 13th Test century.
With Australia posting all their fielders on the boundary, he turned down countless singles and continued to clear the ropes at regular intervals before attempting one big hit too many.
Stokes played down the role of the Bairstow incident in his mindset.
“My innings wasn’t a response to the dismissal, it was a response to where the game was,” he said. “I felt my scoring option was batting on this end with the slope coming towards me.
“I had to be mindful and strategic about the risk I was going to take and felt my best option was taking the fielders out of play,” Stokes added.
“We nearly got there but nearly is not enough, unfortunately.”
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