The independent voice of cricket

Year in Review

Wisden’s Men’s Test innings of 2023 No.2: Ben Stokes 155

Ben Stokes during his 155 at Lord's during the 2023 Ashes
by Katya Witney 4 minute read

Second on our countdown of men’s Test innings of 2023 is Ben Stokes’ 155 during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

Wisden’s men’s Test innings of 2023, No.2: Ben Stokes – 155

England v Australia, second Test – Lord’s

There have been few innings as imperious yet so quickly eclipsed by other events as Ben Stokes on the final day of a tumultuous Ashes Test match at Lord’s. By now, we’re all familiar with the miracles he can produce. But the memories of them are accompanied by after images of trophies being lifted, teammates embraced, or three fingers pointed up at the sky in celebration. Not of booing crowds, breaking up fights between wicketkeepers, and weeks of swirling controversy accompanied by a 2-0 series deficit.

But, while the context in which it was played makes it easy to lose in the noise, it’s precisely why that innings should be ranked among the other Stokes greats.

The pressure cooker Ashes captains spend two months in every couple of years had started simmering for Stokes as the build-up to that Test. After the first innings declaration at Edgbaston and a narrow loss, with the backdrop of blase preparation for the series, the questions over the suitability of England’s style to beating the World Test Champions ramped up. Unable to balance the side in his usual role with a rapidly deteriorating knee and having not passed 50 in a Test since the previous summer, Stokes came into the game with a cloud that only darkened as the game progressed.

Australia wracked up over 400 against England’s attack of mostly docile pace. The usual frustration when those around him fail to match up to Stokes’ own ability to move the game forward broke when he brought himself on to bowl, despite the obvious pain it caused him. But this time, his body showed he could no longer force it to do his bidding. Two of his first three balls were no balls, and he conceded 21 runs from the three overs he bowled. The moronic collapse at the end of the second day that continued into day three to a predictable barrage of short balls meant the baying for a Bazball repentance intensified.

By the time Stokes all-but finished the Australian second innings after a torturous hour of bowling non-stop 80mph bouncers, he was visibly exhausted as he limped back to his mark. But, if it hadn’t been for Stokes, the hope which remained beneath the surface of the England fans in the crowd, and the wariness of those in green and gold would not have been there. England needed 11 more runs to win than they had in 2019, less than against India at Edgbaston during Bazball’s summer of madness. Both the approach Stokes had cultivated and the miracles he’s taught us to expect have lessened the prospect of the impossible.

So, at 45-4, when Stokes came to the crease barely an hour after he’d dragged his knee off the field, the roar that greeted him was as if those first four wickets had been in the way of the main act. But, like at Headingley, the most impressive thing about what came next wasn’t the shots he played, but the foresight and clarity of thought with which he went about his work.

Overnight, Stokes was on 29* off 66 balls. His continued presence at the crease meant punters who ordinarily may not have been moved by a probable England loss, ditched their Sunday plans for the possibility of being able to say ‘I was there’ in the meeting room on Monday morning.

They got their wish, but for everything that happened at the other end instead, while Stokes ‘of course’ was spectacular. They were there for Alex Carey’s villain origin story, Jonny Bairstow’s latest torment, Stuart Broad’s farewell pantomime and the continuation of the MCC class wars. But amongst it all, the central figure was Stokes.

With the crowd wound up to breaking point, Stokes unleashed them by sounding his starting gun. Three fours off Cameron Green in his follow-up over to the Bairstow wicket, one of them off a no-ball. A drive smashed back so hard at Pat Cummins that it’s a wonder it didn’t blow a hole through the hand he got to it. Then came the sixes. Three of them in a row off Green, over midwicket, fine leg and finally square to reach a century. The marker of how special what was happening? No celebration, only a brief raise of the bat to silence the crowd for his next line.

When Stokes walked back out after the Lunch interval which rudely interrupted his monologue, WinViz was almost permanently on the screen. The target was rapidly creeping down to less than three figures and, even with four wickets remaining, the question was being asked. Were England favourites?

Two balls later, and an authoritative six over long-on was Stokes’ answer. As the trauma began to resurface, Australia were transported back to 2019 with not again written on every face. A catch dropped at deep backward square, a glove down the leg side too wide for Carey to grab punctuated the sixes. It took their golden captain to break the Stokes’ grip.

A long discussion between Pat Cummins, his bowlers and the senior ranks in the field during the drinks break formed a plan. In the first over afterwards, Cummins took the pace off and dragged the length back, starving Stokes of any boundaries for the next four overs. The back-to-back sixes he forced off Mitchell Starc were the last of his innings.

It was a quiet end, a top edge off a fairly innocuous bouncer from Josh Hazlewood, muted after the controversy and fireworks of the day. Almost 180 needed at six wickets down with Stokes on the field felt possible, but 70 at seven wickets down without him was impossible.

Nevertheless, taking out its brilliance in isolation, what that innings meant for the series shows its true force. England were 2-0 down but had run Australia close in both games. The message that Stokes would double down and live by his own words, never believing loss was inevitable, set the tone for England’s dominance in the following three Tests. It also signalled his own return to form. Headingley will be remembered for Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, but Stokes’ 80 in the first innings made the win there possible. It’s innings like the ones only Stokes can play that force the belief in the impossible. And even when it doesn’t quite come off, somehow, it almost feels like it did.

Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99