A tie would have been good enough

by Harry on August 27, 2019

When Leach was facing, with 2 to win, the tie was gone. If he was out, Australia would win. If he scored 2, England would win. And if he scored 1, Stokes would score the winning runs. But, from the point of view of the Ashes, a tie was as good as a win: either way England has to win more of the subsequent 2 matches than Australia: if Australia win one, or both are drawn, Australia keep the Ashes.

I tried to describe the scale of Stokes’s feat to someone who had no knowledge of cricket. Unfortunately, she proved to be completely ignorant of all sports, a remarkable accomplishment, but one that left me at a complete loss for analogies (I was going to reach for tennis, but even then — winning from 2 sets down and 5 games down in the third set doesn’t really capture it).

Lots of young people have said that this was the greatest innings ever, better even than Jessop at the Oval, or Botham at Headingley, and that this was a greater victory than Headingley 1981. But they weren’t born at the time and have only seen highlights of 1981, so what do they know? Even those of us who are old didn’t see Jessop in 1903, but we did watch Headingley ’81 with the same stunned disbelief as we watched Headingley ’19. Maybe, just maybe, Jessop’s innings matched this one. But those of us who saw Headingley ’81 and Headingley ’19, albeit on telly, surely agree that the youngsters are right.

What nobody has talked about is Watson and Bailey’s draw. If any of our readers witnessed Sunday’s game, and Watson and Bailey, please let us know how they compare. If you google “Watson and Bailey” from my location, you get a hairstylist in California.

On twitter, in response to a request from Ben Stokes, specsavers agreed to provide Jack Leach with a lifetime supply of eyeglasses.



HcCarey 08.27.19 at 1:16 am

Is this about cricket? Really, I don’t care about the native sports of my own country, at least not very much. That first paragraph made no sense whatsoever, and also as an Irish American I have zero incentive to learn about this artifact of English imperialism.

But if I understand this aright, the ref made a bad call?


Scott P. 08.27.19 at 1:43 am

Sounds exciting. Can someone explain for this non-cricketer? Even summaries online don’t make it clear what Stokes did, or avoided doing, that was so historic.


Philip 08.27.19 at 6:45 am

Thanks, Harry, I was hoping you would post about this. I was born in 81 so have no memories of that but I am glad to have been able to witness something just as extraordinary. Perera’s innings for Sri Lanka in the final test in South Africa this year was meant to be amazing too and it is probably unfair to try and justify one as being better than the other. Alistair Cook described Stokes’ innings as the best by an Englishman and that might be arguable.

Okay, I will try and explain this and as a disclaimer I am a Durham fan, which is Stokes’ Home County and I have been a big fan of his from before he was even called up for England. test cricket is payed over 5 days, each team has 11 players and bats twice. Two batsmen are in at any one time so when a team has 10 outs the innings is over. England scored 67 in their first innings. This is a very low score and I think the last time a team won a test match with a similar score was over 100 years ago and that was when low scores were more common because uncovered pitches were harder to bat on.

The ashes is the name given to the tests between Australia and England. Along with India vs. Pakistan it is the biggest rivalry in cricket. Australia currently hold the ashes so if this series is drawn they would retain them. Before this game Autralia had won one and there was one draw. Now it is 1-1 with two games left, England need to win one game and not lose any to win back the ashes whereas Australia need to just win one of the two games.

Ben Stokes is an all rounder i.e. he is selected in the team for both his bowling and his batting, he is also an exceptional fielder. After the 67 Stokes bowled a spell of 24 overs (144 balls). This in itself was a big physical effort and stopped the Australians momentum when they were looking to make a very big score. As it was England still needed 359 to win, more than they had ever managed to chase to win a test match ever.

When Stokes came into bat England still needed 218 runs and this was on the afternoon of the third day. Having plenty of time Stokes batted very safely taking 73 balls to score 3 runs. As other people got out around him Leach was the last man in for England. He is in the side just as a bowler and not a specialist batsmen so if he got out Australia would win. England still needed 73 runs, this is on the afternoon of the 4th day. Stokes then started hitting the ball out of the ground and taking single runs to make sure he would face the majority of the balls. Lots of other things happened that added to the drama too. But this was an amazing feat of mental and physical stamina and don’t know how it is comparable to any other sport because test cricket being played over 5 days is unique.


Adam Roberts 08.27.19 at 7:08 am

For me, the moment that crystallised it was when Leach was on strike near the finish, and Stokes, at the other end, couldn’t even look. He didn’t ready himself to run if need be; he didn’t even watch his partner; he crouched down and stared at the ground. That, in a way, was the most dramatic thing of all. Because when we were finally reduced to only one wicket remaining in the last innings, and 73 runs still to get, it was clearly all over. I mean, I was still enjoying it, but I’d been assuming this one was lost from our first innings collapse so it wasn’t too painful. And then, and then, the runs started accumulating, and the number we needed to get started ticking down, and over that hour or so resignation became increasingly contaminated by hope. It’s the hope that gets you. And as that number ticked down towards zero, and as it became clearer that Stokes was in some kind of invulnerable, high-scoring, protected-by-the-gods place, you realised that this that hope depended from this fantastically slender thread. Leach. Facing some of the best bowlers in the world, bowlers who had only days before dismissed the entire England batting (the world champion’s batsmen!) for only 67. In that first innings Leach had lasted seven balls before Hazelwood bowled him. Amazing, agonizing, hypnotic, to watch him cling on to his wicket in this second innings.


Philip 08.27.19 at 8:09 am

As for Leach, he still had some very difficult balls to face, a few around 90 mph. He was wearing glasses underneath his protective helmet. It was a hot day and his glasses were steaming up so he had to take his helmet off and wipe his glasses before facing every ball, this just added to the tension. He scored one run, which leveled the scores and stopped Australia retaining the ashes. The test was sponsored by Specsavers, a large chain of opticians. After the game Stokes tweeted that Leach should be given free glasses for life and Specsavers said they would do it.


J-D 08.27.19 at 8:14 am

Unfortunately, she proved to be completely ignorant of all sports, a remarkable accomplishment,

I think I understand how that’s supposed to be a remarkable accomplishment, but I don’t understand how it’s supposed to be unfortunate.

If you google “Watson and Bailey” from my location, you get a hairstylist in California.

I’m not sure whether location has anything do with it. That’s what I got as well, from my location (searching with DuckDuckGo–does that use location information?).

However, when I searched for ‘Watson Bailey draw’, I found out what John Arlott had to say about it, and also that the names were Willie Watson and Trevor Bailey, and when I searched for ‘”Willie Watson””Trevor Bailey”‘, additional relevant results appeared (and none relating to the hairstylist). So you could try either of those approaches.


Dave Heasman 08.27.19 at 1:10 pm

Remember also that Botham in 1981 needed Willis (or indeed vice versa as I often put it in stirring mode).
What Stokes had was Buttler run out. And the heroic Leach


Dave Heasman 08.27.19 at 1:12 pm

As for Watson and Bailey I heard it, spellbound, on the radio. As I did when we got the Aussies 35 for 8 that same year.


Harry 08.27.19 at 1:31 pm

Wow, you are older than I thought! My dad listened to that too. One of the pleasures of Sunday was watching in Wisconsin with my 12 year old, while on the phone with my 79 year old dad watching in Oxford, and messaging with a school friend I haven’t seen since 1981 who was listening to TMS in his garden in Plymouth. I woke up to a message from the latter saying “are you listening to this?”.

JD — I did. I just thought it was funny to get a hairstylist.

For me it was when he reached his century and displayed no interest at all in it that I started assigning a probability of more than 0.5 to a victory.


TheSophist 08.27.19 at 4:40 pm

While I absolutely agree with the superlatives of Stokes’ (and Leach’s) innings, I don’t agree that “a tie would have been enough”. Enough to theoretically keep the ashes alive, yes, but in the case of a tie, England would have needed to win both the remaining matches, but now a win and a draw (note to non-cricket folks – a draw and a tie are actually different things) will suffice. That’s a really big difference.


Harry 08.27.19 at 5:14 pm

You’re absolutely right, and now I feel stupid. I wonder whether I would have felt more joy at Stokes’s 4, and less at Leach’s single, if I hadn’t miscalculated?


Harry 08.27.19 at 5:15 pm

That said, with these two batting line ups, the chances of another draw are quite slim, unless the weather intervenes. A lot!


Royton De'Ath 08.27.19 at 6:01 pm

Mmm! Alastair Cook must be looking at some other bloke. Stokes is a Kiwi.


djr 08.27.19 at 9:58 pm

Googling from the UK, the California hair place is #1, the cricket one is #2.

And just to be really picky, a wide or no ball followed by bowling Leach…


Not Trampis 08.27.19 at 10:33 pm

I have written about this at my modest blog.
Stokes’s innings was easily the best I have seen as all the facets of batting came into play.
Technically and industriously it was a far better innings than Botham’s. People forget how many snicks went for four.
I watched both on TV.
That England won with one of the weakest batting lineups I have seen can simply be put down to Stokes genius.
although we lost the match was a magnificent advertisement for TEST cricket.


Not Trampis 08.28.19 at 12:31 am

I should just add a few things
Leach’s one was the greatest of all time,
The crowd was fantasist. Why are the pommy crowds so good and our crowds so boring. Surely it should be the other way round. I might add the only time they are not boring it is because of the barmy army.
The pitches are not a patch on the ones used last season against India.


RobinM 08.28.19 at 1:03 am

oo bad that the first commentator could only see cricket as an artifact of English imperialism. The game came later to Scotland, where I grew up, and my coal-mining grandfather taught me to love the game. I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen any of the matches now being referred to. But I did see—on tv—the England-Australia test matches in 1948: Bradman, Lindwall, Millar, Hutton, Compton and so many more: it was magic and engrossing because cricket is such a beautiful game, no matter who invented it or how it was spread. I guess C.L.R. James knew that, and he could hardly be called an agent, witting or otherwise, of British imperialism.


Not Trampis 08.28.19 at 3:05 am

Sorry but we should talk about the ebbs and flows of a great test match.
Coming into the last day I was confident we would win because of England’s poor batting but apprehensive Root was still there. When he was out ( to a great catch)we had the big Mo then Bairstow came in changed Stokes and England regained it and I was nervous again. After lunch and Leach came in and i only waited to see us mop him up.
Once Stokes absolutely too apart Hazelwood I was very nervous and I coulf feel our players then wonder if they now might lose it. England sorry Stokes regained big Mo and never lost it.

This is why test cricket is sooo good to watch at its best

A once in a generation game and innings and I was lucky enough to watch it.


Z 08.28.19 at 5:38 am

Half of the sentences in the original posts and the comments uses direct objects and prepositions in such an unusual way that I feel I’m reading a completely new language (“As I did when we got the Aussies 35 for 8 that same year”, “You’re absolutely right, and now I feel stupid. I wonder whether I would have felt more joy at Stokes’s 4, and less at Leach’s single, if I hadn’t miscalculated?” oh you feel stupid).

I tried to describe the scale of Stokes’s feat to someone who had no knowledge of cricket. […] winning from 2 sets down and 5 games down in the third set doesn’t really capture it.

It occurred to me reading this paragraph that in some sports, a large enough cumulative advantage changes the character of the game so much that it proves decisive (basketball or handball), whereas in others no matter how much of an advantage you have, each phase of the game is just like the previous ones (even if you lead by 2 sets and 5 games in tennis, if as of now you are being outplayed by your opponent, you will lose). In some sports, winning requires dominance for an extended stretch of time (tennis) whereas in others, dominating decisively enough even for one second may be enough, essentially no matter what happened in the rest of the match (boxing or judo). From the little I understand about cricket, it seems that what Stokes and Leach did was winning a game of tennis being 2 sets down, and somehow every point was a match point ball for the other team. Is that approximately right?


derrida derider 08.28.19 at 6:09 am

For non-cricketers, perhaps the way to explain it is the sort of odds the bookmakers would have offered against England when Leach came into bat. There was of course no betting market at that stage but had there been then England would have been quite literally thousands to one against. For USAnians it’s like being, say, 9-0 behind and two down in the bottom of the ninth and still winning.

Not Trampis is right about Botham’s 1981 innings at Headingly (sigh – that’s how long I’ve been a cricket tragic). It was freakish alright – freakishly lucky. Skied ball after ball landing safely, and some educated edges through the slips too. Stokes’ was very much better, though aided by some tired and uncharacteristically poor bowling.

I’d back Australia to still retain the Ashes though as I think they’re simply the better team, especially with Smith back. Don’t forget Australia, despite being sent in under very tough conditions, dominated most of this match.


Harry 08.28.19 at 2:20 pm

In one of ED Hirsch’s books (written for Americans) he uses a long passage of description of a cricket match to show that you can know the meanings of all the words that are used and yet, if you lack background context knowledge, what you are reading is incomprehensible to you. Its a very powerful illustration of the importance of cultural literacy.

I, too, think Australia are likely to win — they are the better team with both Smith and Labuschagne. That is, if Smith has not been spooked by Archer, and unless Anderson is at his best. England’s problem is that their upper order is extremely fragile. Personally, I’d like to see Stokes and Curran banished to county cricket for a year, forbidden to bowl, and required to open the batting for their first division counties. (I’m only half joking — the point is that around that team they’re the two players I think could be world class openers).

Another thing frequently forgotten about Botham’s innings (which was great, really great, don’t get me wrong) is that he didn’t get going till Dilley started swinging at things. Dilley was brilliant that day, and Botham seemed unsure what to until shown th way. And then Chris Old’s 29 was crucial; so Botham never experienced the demoralizing collapse that Stokes witnessed. And, with all due respect to Root, Stokes did not have the greatest England captain ever backing him all the way. And Botham’s slowish start was due to indecision, whereas Stokes’s technically perfect defense in those first 70 balls was down to total determination. Again, Botham’s innings was one of the greats. But its hard for me to believe there’s been one better than Stokes’s. Certainly by an England player.

Worth reading CMJ in the aftermath of Headingley ’81. I was never really a fan of CMJ’s, but this gives you the flavour of the match. And Z can figure out whether he understands it at all. (and, yes, I think your tennis analogy does just about capture it!).


Also, why not: here’s Willis, who said on Sunday night that Headingley ’19 eclipsed Headingley ’81 (those people in the crowd have radios clutched to their ears, listening to TMS, not phones):


Neville Morley 08.28.19 at 2:21 pm

My one complaint is that the freakish heroism of Stokes’ innings completely overshadowed everything else, whereas Headingley ‘81 was always about Willis as well as Botham. If Cook hadn’t got out first thing in the morning, we might have been looking at a surprising rather than astonishing victory, and spending a little more time discussing Archer’s excellent performance in the first Australian innings.


Harry 08.28.19 at 2:24 pm

It’s at 58-4 when the session ends that you can see they think they’re really in with a chance. And Willis (for whom this could easily have been his last match — indeed who was lucky even to play) looks like he’s possessed by a devil.

Also: note that Fred Trueman, when announcing the player of the match, mentions several performances but NOT WILLIS’s!


Harry 08.28.19 at 3:16 pm

“we might have been looking at a surprising rather than astonishing victory”
Absolutely. But we did look at an astonishing one. Archer was excellent, but he’ll bowl that well many more times, sometimes with more, sometimes with less success. Willis is actually the person who produced the truly astounding performance in ’81 –the one-off that is more comparable to Stokes’s performance than Botham’s was (for those who didn’t see it, see above — the highlights give a much better sense of Willis’s spell than they do of Botham’s or Stokes’s innings)

“If Cook hadn’t got out first thing in the morning”
Root. Very interesting slip of the keyboard/tongue/pen that!


Neville Morley 08.28.19 at 3:51 pm

Yes, that is interesting. Prosaic explanation is that people above had been talking about Cook in context of praise of Stokes. Or maybe just wishful thinking…


Harry 08.28.19 at 5:01 pm

“And just to be really picky, a wide or no ball followed by bowling Leach…”
Another thing I was wrong about! Still, yes, picky (though, given the stupid review and the run out disaster, not so unlikely really).


TheSophist 08.28.19 at 6:55 pm

Whenever Americans complain about cricket terminology, I point out that baseball (or, for that matter any other sport) is just as impenetrable to the uninitiated. Every individual word of the statement “he beat out a grounder deep in the hole to short” is a common word, but, as Lisa Simpson once said about “Yahoo Serious festival”, “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”


Harry 08.28.19 at 7:04 pm

Talking of baseball. During the world cup final my dad asked, in disbelief, whether baseball can deliver such tension and excitement or such an array of skills and athleticism. Then last night I had the misfortune of being trapped for 2 hours in an AT&T store, with a Brewers game playing on a large screen TV, and wondered, once again, how baseball can survive once T20 creeps into the public consciousness in the US (which, admittedly, might take another 30-50 years at this rate). I see why some unfortunate people might not enjoy test cricket, and even why some might not cricket at all, but it is hard to see how someone confronted with baseball and T20 could prefer baseball (absent massive cultural pressure to do so). [Saying that I feel a bit disloyal to our excellent Badger Softball team because the same really applies to softball despite it being considerably more interesting than baseball].


Trader Joe 08.28.19 at 8:34 pm

@28 Harry
I think comparing T20 and baseball is down to a matter of cultural preference. There are awesome baseball games with lots of scoring and good tension and there are crummy games.

In my experience watching T20 it goes sorta the same – there are definitely some great games and the format encourages more robust action than test cricket (for which I enjoy and appreciate the strategy and endurance aspect), but no doubt you’ve watched plenty of lopsided matches in that format too.

Last night’s Brewers game was hardly the peak of the genre with well over 2/3 of all scoring occurring in the final couple of innings (of which there are 9, not 2 for the non-baseballers in the crowd).

With respect to the OP – I’m sorry to have missed it. I usually track the matches on BBC but sadly had other engagements and only learned afterwards that I missed the match of the decade, century or ever depending on perspective.


Not Trampis 08.28.19 at 11:15 pm

Om Botham V Stokes

Botham was the better bowler. He could open the bowling for England,. Stokes cannot. He could swing the ball both ways late at medium pace sometimes getting to fast medium. He was mostly consistent in his bowling. Stokes only swings it away late and cuts it back at fast medium sometimes at pace. He will not open the bowling. Remember until the third day of this test Stokes has not bowled well at all.
Stokes is the better batsman . He has a better technique and a wider array of strokes. Beefy was found out against both pace and good spin.
Botham was a superb slips fieldsman whereas Stokes can field anywhere.

As for the next two test matches we should win both. Apart from Stokes and root the poms have no batsmen. they are the weakest batting lineup I can recall in recent years.
They appear to go harder at balls than we do which is asking to get out in England.


Harry 08.28.19 at 11:24 pm

The Stokes/Botham comparison seems exactly right. Stokes is capable of explosive spells, but he’s limited as a bowler (as I said above I’d prefer him to focus entirely on batting). You didn’t mention that he is, always, extremely fit. Whereas Beefy…

In form, the England batting line up can paper over its cracks. The Australian line up isn’t great either. If England’s batsmen can be at their best, or Smith is spooked (we don’t know!) England have a chance. Otherwise, you’re probably right.


Not Trampis 08.29.19 at 12:11 am

If Botham played today he would have to be fit.

Australia has a weak batting side wheres your blokes are even weaker.
As for Smith I have two words

Graeme Watson. Never the same after he top edged a Tony Greig bouncer at the MCG into his face.
We know robin hood’s ( get it) pace unnerves him ( and other batsmen) we do not know as yet whether he will plat as Watson did after he got hit.

what has happened to Root. He is a shadow of the Batsman he was.
The BBC commentary is superb ( except for our glenn McGrath who is boring and essentially tells us nothing.) Aggers is the BEST caller in the world and when he teams up with Boycs it is irresistible listening.

Our ABC have no-one when Jim Maxwell goes as g he will soon although Nannes and Cowan are very good at analysis.


derrida derider 08.29.19 at 1:07 am

Yep, both teams have far stronger bowling than batting – this was always going to be a low scoring series.

It’s sport so the weaker side always have a chance of winning. As Damon Runyan said “It’s true that the race is not always to the swift, nor battle to the strong. But that’s the way to bet”.

The interesting thing for the next game is what instructions the groundsman has (everyone doctors their pitches these days). An absolutely flat pitch for England’s limited overs sloggers is probably their best chance, but it risks a draw. A green pitch favours the Oz seamers. A turning pitch also favours Oz – Lyon is not a great bowler but he is better than any English spinner at the moment.


Scott P. 08.29.19 at 2:04 am

Professional cricket was around about a century before professional baseball, which didn’t prevent the latter’s development and success; it’d be rather odd if it killed it off now, 250 years later.


Not Trampis 08.29.19 at 3:14 am

Seaming wickets saw Smith not even get to double figures last tour. Flat tracks merely means he gets another ton depending on how he reacts to Robin Hood’s shorter balls.

We have never been able to bat on seaming tracks.

Mind you the pitches they had for England V India were superb. More of those please.

You need to take twenty wickets to win a test and the poms will not do that on a flat track


John Quiggin 08.29.19 at 7:03 am

Harry, what are the differences that make softball more interesting than baseball? I’ve only seen softball played socially as against professional baseball in big stadiums, and not many instances of either, so I can’t really do an unbiased comparison.


Dave Heasman 08.29.19 at 8:53 am

“they are the better team with both Smith and Labuschagne..”

Annoyingly I saw Labuschagne play a 4-day game for Glamorgan earlier this season and he seemed decidedly average. Ho hum.


oldster 08.29.19 at 10:54 am

I finally realized that the title of this post is a reference to the Dayenu.

Which is appropriate, if you think the outcome is an accumulation of miracles.

So a question: who is the greatest Jewish cricketer of the last 100 years? (Whether British, Aussie, Indian, Pakistani (somewhat less likely) or other nationality).

Time-restriction included in order to rule out, e.g. David, who smote the wicket and scored in the tens of thousands.


Dave Heasman 08.29.19 at 4:59 pm

Jewish cricketers, well I googled and found Fred Trueman! If he qualifies he’s it. Or Ali Bacher. By his name I would have guessed Stevie Eskinazi but there’s no mention of it.


atalanta 08.29.19 at 6:26 pm

@38, That’s easy, Freddie Trueman:


In these times of racial and religious fear mongering, England’s Muslim cricketers may be doing some good to counter such tendencies:


(Incidentally, the Waqar mentioned by Geoff Boycott was my schoolmate almost 4 decades ago. Not only was he a great fast bowler of the early 90s ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3Te1aPz-dY ), he was also the idol of a young boy who later enjoyed some success as an athlete:




Not Trampis 08.29.19 at 10:59 pm

One last thing.
Ian Botham was and is the greatest allrounder in history. He has won tests with bat and ball and almost possibly in Bombay of all places hit a tio on and took ten wickets. I doubt if this wlil ever be equaled as it is a mighty mighty effort.

Stokes could never do that. Take 5 wickets but not 10


None 08.30.19 at 3:24 pm

“Ian Botham was and is the greatest allrounder in history.”

Bulls**t. Botham’s stats are well behind Jacques Kallis’ and Imran Khan’s.


Not Trampis 08.31.19 at 3:30 am

Except neither won a test with the ball in the former and the bat with the latter.

THAT is what an allrounder can do. I might note Gary sobers did not come close to winning a test with the ball ( consistently the Allan Border emphasis needed)

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