Described by Root as a thorough team man, Stokes, when he was given the ball, must have known that a re-entry into the national team anytime soon seems improbable
“We’ve got Kohliii. Virat Kohliii. I just don’t think you understaaand. We’ve got Viraaat Kohliii.”
The chants were deafening. The Bharat Army was in high spirits and the Indians hoped against hope. The saviour Virat Kohli was inching nearer to his half-century and the ground was abuzz. The opening salvo. A historical series win. A victory that would push the hosts to the back foot. A victory that would infuse confidence within the visiting unit. Moments of anticipation and fear. Would triumph strike or would it elude them like it has on so many occasions in the past?
As Dinesh Karthik walked back to the pavilion in the first over itself, the inevitable loomed largely. 6 wickets down. Hardik Pandya was hardly seen as a match-winner but India was so close to the target. Just 82 runs more. The first innings hero Kohli was yet again grinding it out and all it required was a mature hand from Pandya. Play it calmly. Give the captain as much of the strike as possible. One run and one ball at a time. A victory would surely strike.
The pair handled the blows from James Anderson and Stuart Broad with maturity. No unnecessary shots. Time was theirs for the taking and soon enough, the lead was within grasp. The two premier bowlers had lost the sting and as exhaustion loomed large over the English camp, shoulders sank. When Pandya whipped away three runs off Sam Curran towards mid-wicket and Kohli hopped to clip a boundary through fine-leg, chants picked up pace. “We’ve got Kohliii. Viraaat Kohliii.”
A full ball from Broad. Pandya smashed it back at him faster than it was delivered. An inswinger the next ball. A hit towards mid-wicket. India’s ploy to counterattack had worked and the ploy fetched them 15 runs in just 8 balls. The target down to 52 with Kohli looking more determined than ever to lead India back with a win.
Bowlers the world over will know that if there is one batsman who is difficult to dismiss when he has pledged to stay put on the crease is the Indian leader. If he is attacked, he will play the deliveries around till the bowlers lose their stamina. If he is forced to commit errors, rival teams can wait and wait for the moment that will never come about. And if a victory is within sniffing distance, there really appears no escape route.
On the day, it did seem that way. It was evident in the sheepish grin directed towards Anderson when the latter appealed for an LBW without success. Almost on cue, the Bharat Army picked up their veracious cries to further increase the pressure on the Englishman. “We’ve got Kohliii.”
Pushed to a corner, it was imperative that Joe Root made a change. A change that would turn the tide and help overturn their poor run in Tests in the last year or so. The red cherry went to Ben Stokes, who could have been intimidated with the upcoming court trial against him. The first ball from him was short and slanted in towards Kohli’s chest. The next was wide of the off-stump that was steered away. Realising the Indian’s control in the off-stump area, the all-rounder aimed at his pads – yet another strength of the skipper. His aim was simple – make Kohli vulnerable if he decided to move across the line. All this while, unaware of the impending doom, the screams rang loud and clear. “We’ve got Kohliii.”
The next ball was wide over the stumps and it swung back into the batsman who had committed to a flick towards square. He missed. As the ball hit his pad plumb in front, the nation waited. The third umpire was called in and the few seconds since Kohli reviewed and the red turned bright on the screen, were filled with a plethora of emotions. Fear. Hope. Ecstasy. Despair. As Stokes sank onto the knees and as Kohli walked back, the strap of his helmet kissing his lips, the atmosphere would well be decoded. The ferocity of the Bharat Army’s chants quietened down and the Barmy Army, realizing this was their moment went into an overdrive. “We’ve finally got Kohliii.”
One wicket brings two and a couple of deliveries later, sure enough, Mohammad Shami edged one behind to the keeper. Stokes showed his astute cricketing brain by smartly utilizing the angle, which meant that the tail-ender had to grit it out against a rising delivery. The straight line and the extra bounce resulted in Shami’s dismissal.
And when he forced Pandya to nick one to Alastair Cook, the Durham all-rounder was lost for words. As India succumbed to a 31-run defeat – the lowest margin in the twenty-first century – the role of Stokes in the Test team was brought to the fore again. He had guided England to memorable wins over New Zealand at Lord’s in 2015 after he dismissed Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum in consecutive balls. He had helped England against Bangladesh in Chittagong a year later when the home team needed only 22 runs for a win. Last year, Stokes allowed England to seize a win against South Africa when Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis were sent back in a space of six balls. He did it again against India by getting the unstoppable Kohli and his joy knew no bounds.
Described by Root as a thorough team man, Stokes, when he was given the ball, must have known that a re-entry into the national team anytime soon seems improbable. He was charged with affray following a brawl in the streets last September and if the case does not go in his favour, he could sit out for a long, long time. But before fighting yet another battle, Stokes was determined to stamp his name in the series and within a span of four overs, he managed to do just that.