Worcestershire Trail 169 for 6 (Barnard 55, Potts 5-35) Durham 580 for December 6 (Stokes 161, Bedingham 135, Dickson 104) by 411 runs
For my first round, how about a record number of six? Ben Stokes
marked his first appearance since becoming England captain in extraordinary fashion with 17 of them for Durham in the LV= Championship. It was bold, it was brutal and it was utterly dismissive, and those present to see it in Worcester rejoiced in an assault that, long before the end, had entered the realm of fantasy.
For Stokes, the trading part of the season begins on June 2 when New Zealand visit Lord’s for the first Test, but it felt as if his ambitions for the challenge ahead, his hopes and fears were shattered in a towering display of power. struck. He was an indomitable force of nature. Every member of the Worcestershire attack, to some degree, was cut off from his presence. It was a murder under the cathedral.
“It was a good day, wasn’t it?” he said with a broad smile.
Stokes came to the crease in the morning third over and left it 28 overs later in the afternoon fourth over. During that time, he hit 161 of 88, allowed such freedom by a scoreboard showing 360 for 4. Along the way, he used four bats, explaining that he had just received a new batch and that he was testing them for the coming summer. The verdict, as if you didn’t know it? “They were all good.”
Elderly spectators smiled at his achievement as if imbued with the spirit of youth. The most unfortunate spectator must have been the woman who arrived immediately after lunch, her arrival delayed because her boiler had leaked, but she seemed content enough, unable to accept the idea that watching the Worcestershire attack be so badly treated would have been remotely enjoyable.
There were smooth swings across the line and soft wrists. There were powerful blows and there were soft caresses. And there were so close to six sixes in an over: when his finishing blow fell just yards from long range, Stokes waved his bat and knocked his head back in disappointment. “I knew as soon as I reached the final delivery that he didn’t quite have the legs,” he said.
, an England U-19 left-arm spinner, will be grateful to have been spared that anguish. Long consultations after the fourth and fifth balls of the plus spoke of Worcestershire’s protective instincts. Stokes shared that benevolent eye. He knew what it’s like to be on the receiving end – and in a World T20 final. “Hopefully he can use the experience and not think about it too much.”
Twice now he’s thrown sixes on the first five balls of an over without quite being able to land the final blow. Oh, for such a sweet failure. The first time, in 2011, he was still just a teenager trying to get his way when he assaulted Hampshire’s Liam Dawson at the Ageas Bowl
. Enough water has flowed under the bridge for several lifetimes since, some of it somewhat polluted, but its power remains immense, its appetite intact.
Baker’s first three balls to Stokes had all been point balls, but he still ended up conceding 34 from nine deliveries in total. Leach, huffing and puffing to no good effect, was taken for 42 of 22, five sixes among them. Thirteen of Stokes’ 17 sixes flew over the leg side, each shot past the square. There were no slogs, just authentic cricket shots of disturbing force. As the weather constantly shifted from hot to cold, a day of contradictions, Stokes was a constant. The game has become a thing of rare simplicity. The only way he seemed likely to be stopped was if a council official intervened on health and safety grounds.
It was his first run since England ten-wicket loss to West Indies in March
; his first for Durham since Warwickshire last July, when he left midway to captain a Hastily summoned England shadow team
due to a Covid epidemic. He started with a solid forefoot defense. So far so routine. On his next ball, he stepped onto the pitch, his intention now clear. The field was benevolent, the bowling without threat. As the bells rang for noon, her reach had lengthened. He was in his element.
He shot Ed Barnard dangerously close to square leg deep at 18; Ben Gibbon risked a lbw call on 40, and there was another glimmer of opportunity on 139 at fullback when the vulnerability briefly revealed itself again. But they couldn’t be more ephemeral. The most common sight was Worcestershire boundary fielders sprinting, staggering and reaching desperately as the ball sailed through the stands in all directions, with Stokes adding 53 runs from 10 balls at the height of his onslaught. Most went through a clean shot, but the most draining were miss shots that ran away with comparable force. New Road wasn’t big enough to hold him. Somewhere along the way, David Bedingham’
The completion of his hundred (quite brisk, in 120 balls) went almost unnoticed under the cover of the storm. Bedingham, a reminder of normalcy, went down two balls after Stokes went missing, their position worth 220 from 28 overs.
By a happy coincidence, another great all-around English player, Ian Botham
, Durham’s chairman, was on hand to watch Stokes’ big innings, though, as he was part of a marquee lunch for Duncan Fearnley, the former Worcestershire batter, chairman and bat-maker, he hasn’t necessarily seen much of it. Mark Nicholas’ speeches are very nice things, but even so, there may have been some fuss.
Lunch came in with 15 sixes on behalf of Stokes. There shouldn’t be any mess. The record was tied with the first ball after the restart, with Gibbon watching the ball sail to the club’s long-term offices. He broke it in the next part against Worcestershire captain Brett D’Oliveira’s leg rotation. Fearnley would probably tell you that, if Stokes had used one of his bats, his last shot against D’Oliveira wouldn’t have failed at deep midwicket. As is, Colin Munro’s world record of 23 sixes in one set
remains intact. Maybe that’s for another day, not that he cares. “People talk to you about records, but that’s not why you play the game,” he said.
Stokes’ nine overs with the ball were much more uneventful, a gentle introduction to the season, but again the strength was with Matthew Potts, whose five for 35 at the end was his third five for la season and have occurred in a match. when bowlers have had minimal impact. He mostly returns the ball at a good pace, is a yard faster than last season and, in an opening phase of the season characterized by slow throws, few fast bowlers have acquitted themselves more impressively. He attracts more attention than the English captain.