Durham 580 for 6 dec (Stokes 161, Bedingham 135, Dickson 104) vs Worcestershire
For my first trick, how about a county-record number of sixes? Ben Stokes
marked his first appearance since his elevation to the England captaincy in extraordinary fashion with 17 of them for Durham in the LV= Championship. It was bold, it was brutal and it was utterly contemptuous, and those present to see it at Worcester delighted in an assault that, long before the end, had entered the realms of fantasy.
For Stokes, the business part of the season begins on June 2 when New Zealand visit Lord’s for the first Test, but it was as if his ambitions for the challenge ahead, his hopes and his fears, burst forth in an imposing display of power-hitting. He was an untamable force of nature. Every member of Worcestershire’s attack, to some extent or other, was brushed from his presence. This was murder beneath the cathedral.
Stokes came to the crease in the third over of the morning and left it 28 overs later in the fourth over of the afternoon. In that time, he made 161 from 88 balls. Elderly spectators smiled upon it as if infused with the spirit of youth. The most unfortunate must have been the woman who arrived immediately after lunch, delayed because her boiler had been dripping, but she appeared to be quite content, unable to countenance the thought that watching Worcestershire so mistreated would have been enjoyable.
There were free-flowing swings through the line and gentle cuffs. There were mighty blows and there were sweetly-tuned caresses. And there were almost six sixes in an over: when his final blow fell a few metres short at long on, Stokes swished his bat and flung back his head in disappointment. Josh Baker
, 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 over told of Worcestershire’s protective instincts.
Twice now, Stokes has launched sixes off 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 a teenager seeking to make 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 his power remains immense, his appetite undimmed.
Baker’s first three balls to Stokes had all been dot-balls, but he still ended up conceding 34 from nine deliveries all told. Leach, huffing and puffing to no good effect, was taken for 42 from 22, five sixes among them. Thirteen of Stokes’ 17 sixes flew over the leg-side, every blow in front of square. There were no slogs, just authentic cricket shots of disturbing force. As the weather constantly switched from warm to chill, a day of contradictions, Stokes was a constant. The game became a thing of rare simplicity. The only way he seemed likely to be stopped was if a council official intervened on the grounds of health and safety.
This was Stokes’ first innings since England’s ten-wicket defeat against West Indies in March
; his first for Durham since Warwickshire last July when he left halfway through to captain a hastily-convened England shadow squad
because of a Covid outbreak. He began with a solid, front-foot defensive. So far, so routine. To his next ball, he took a stride down the pitch, his intent now clear. The pitch was benevolent, the bowling unthreatening. As the bells rang for noon, his range had lengthened.
He pulled Ed Barnard perilously close to deep square leg when 18; Ben Gibbon risked an lbw appeal on 40, and there was another glimmer of an opportunity on 139 at backward point when vulnerability again briefly revealed itself. But they could not have been more ephemeral. The most common sight was Worcestershire’s boundary fielders sprinting, staggering and reaching hopelessly as the ball sailed into the stands in all directions, with Stokes adding 53 runs from 10 balls at the height of his onslaught. Most crossed to a healthy thwack, but the really draining ones were the mishits that raced away with comparable force. New Road was not big enough to contain him. Somewhere along the way, David Bedingham’
s completion of his hundred (brisk enough, in 120 balls) passed almost unnoticed under cover of the storm. Bedingham, a reminder of normality, fell two balls after Stokes’ demise, their stand worth 220 in 28 overs.
Through happy concidence, another great England allrounder, Ian Botham
, was on hand to witness Stokes’ grand innings, although as he was part of a lunch gathering in a marquee for Duncan Fearnley, the former Worcestershire batter, chairman and bat-maker, he did not necessarily see much of it. Mark Nicholas’ speeches are very fine things, but even so there may have been some fidgeting.
Lunch intervened with 15 sixes to Stokes’ name. There was to be no messing. The record was equalled with the first ball after the resumption, Gibbons watching the ball sail towards the club offices at long-on. He broke it in the next over against the leg-spin of Worcestershire’s captain, Brett D’Oliveira. Fearnley would probably tell you that, had Stokes been using one of his bats, his final blow against D’Oliveira would not have fallen short at deep midwicket. As it is, Colin Munro’s world record of 23 sixes in an innings
remains intact. Perhaps that is for another day.