In Bryan Adams' iconic song 'Summer of 69', there is a line which sums up the mood of the song. "Those were the best days of my life. It was the summer of 69'. Adams' 'Summer of 69' song could be what the England cricket team is humming in 2019. The five glorious months, right from the time when David Willey bowled the first ball to Fakhar Zaman in Cardiff in May to Jack Leach getting rid of Josh Hazlewood in September, England's cricketing landscape has changed in many different ways. They dominated Pakistan, won the World Cup for the first time after 44 years of pain and they relinquished the Ashes to Australia on home soil but did not lose a series.
One line that has gone viral and which summed up England's summer in 2019 is that England lost Ashes without losing it while they won the World Cup without winning it. The last part is tad unfair, considering that when one looks at the ICC playing conditions rules, that was the way to determine the winner in case of a tie. Many people found it unfair. However, a rule is a rule and one had to move on.
In the summer of 2019, one man rewrote England'd fortunes totally. From facing charges of affray and assault and being sidelined from the England team for one year, he rose up like a phoenix. He proved he was the man for the big occasion. He was the one who put England in the contest every single time. His career was at the crossroads in Bristol, but in London and at the home of cricket, he showed that he was destiny's child. England's glorious summer of 19 is incomplete without Ben Stokes' contributions.
The saying of 'Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man' could not have been more apt for Stokes. The trend was set in the first match against South Africa at The Oval when he took a fantastic catch to set the path for something special for England. In the final at Lord's against New Zealand, the team that forced them to make changes in their ODI set-up following the humiliation of 2015, the twists and turns were like a roller-coaster. Stokes was playing against the country where he was born. Yet, here he was on a mission to deny them. Stokes had kept England in the hunt along with Jos Buttler and with 15 needed off the final four balls, it needed some desperation.
Stokes blasted a six and then the defining moment of the match came. One would not have been even prepared for such an outcome. Stokes nudged a ball to deep midwicket and set off for a couple. When he dived for the second back in his crease, Martin Guptill's throw from the deep deflected off his bat and it went for four overthrows. Six more runs were added. It was like the Act of Providence, which is defined as an accident against which ordinary skill and foresight could not guard. For certain acts no one can be held responsible. After two run-outs, the match went into the super over.
Jofra Archer, who himself would go on to make giant strides and was included in the England set-up with questions on his eligibility criteria, was tasked to bowl the super over. It was Stokes who calmed him and gave him confidence with the quote, 'Win or Lose, today does not define you'. Archer almost got the job done and the super over also ended in a tie. However, England were the winners as they had hit the most boundaries.
Come the Ashes and England were facing Steve Smith who was batting with inspiration, confidence and with a zen-like concentration never seen before. England lost in Edgbaston for the first time after 18 years, the Lord's Test was drawn. However, it witnessed the heroics of Archer and Stokes yet again. In Leeds, they were on the cusp of losing the Ashes completely. With just one wicket remaining, only Stokes remained with Jack Leach.
However, in a partnership and knock that would go down in Ashes folklore, Stokes shared a partnership of 76 with Leach and he gave an exhibition of batting with the tail. Australia were denied an LBW and Nathan Lyon missed a run-out of Leach. Stokes blasted 135 and England had achieved their highest run-chase in Test history as they won by one run. Australia retained the Ashes with victory in Old Trafford but England, not willing to let Stokes' exploits go to waste, put up an inspired show to win at The Oval and at least ensure they did not lose a series at home to Australia.
When one looks at the World Cup and Ashes, Stokes' knocks were far from perfect. It needed something freakish against New Zealand to ensure England won the World Cup. In the Ashes, Australia's two missed chances under pressure in Leeds ensured that the series was drawn 2-2 and not 3-1. Big players capitalise on the mistakes of the opposition. Stokes did just that.
In the entire course of the five months, England cricket has changed dramatically. There are challenges for them, especially when it comes to winning away and also with regards to their Test batting. For the moment though, cricket and a grateful England public can raise a toast to Stokes, who has ensured that the summer of 2019 for English cricket remains unforgettable in their history.