In classic 2019 fashion, the battle for Wisden‘s men’s Test innings of the year ended in a tie between Ben Stokes and Kusal Perera. Ben Gardner explains why the innings really are two of a kind.
Ben Stokes 135* (219)
England v Australia
Kusal Perera 153* (200)
South Africa v Sri Lanka
So it’s a tie then. Ben Stokes, of course, won the innings of the decade poll but the vagaries of different panel make-ups and perhaps a few more weeks’ perspective for the decision to gestate have left us with this. No super overs, no resorting to boundary counts (19-17 to Stokes though, if you were wondering), no second referendum, just a good old-fashioned sharing of the points.
And really, isn’t that the way it should be? While comparing and contrasting the various merits of each is diverting up to a point, and the whole reason we do these lists in the first place, isn’t the really interesting thing figuring out how the two best innings of the decade, perhaps of all time, occurred within six months of each other?
Certainly the common strands shared by the two knocks are almost unnerving. The last-wicket stands just two runs apart, cult hero No.11s, the final scores anagrams of each other, and the arms spread wide at the end of it all.
Where they diverge are where the performances sit in each player’s bodies of work. For Stokes, it felt like the logical endpoint of an utterly illogical career, and perhaps the innings tells us more about the man himself than the febrile state of modern cricket.
Perera’s barnstormer is more instructive. While it’s maybe unfair to describe it as a bolt from the blue – the Sri Lankan had fired a warning shot in the form of a brilliant hundred in vain in a big ODI chase against New Zealand at the start of the year, and he does sit in joint-second place in the list of fastest ODI fifties – it felt like once-in-a-lifetime innings.
And yet, don’t be surprised if we see more and more players have their days in the sun. Slowly but surely, the positive effect of T20 cricket is becoming evident. No longer is 70 runs an acceptable session’s work; it’s a realistic target in the last five overs of an IPL game, and therefore an achievable total to shepherd a tail-ender along to.
The proliferation of T20 leagues too has led to a democratisation of six-hitting. At some point in most players’ careers, they will find themselves up against a Dale Steyn, or a Jasprit Bumrah, and have to find a theoretical way of hitting them out of the park. Even if it works once out of a 100 times, the necessity of boundary clearing makes that a preferable option to playing them out.
It took 142 years for someone to play a Test knock like Perera’s, and half a year for the next. It will surely be far closer to the latter than the former for the next all-time great innings to enter the conversation.