Stokes, England’s ‘Mr Incredible,’ inspires win in 2nd test

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Whatever the format, whatever the circumstances, Ben Stokes continues to deliver match-winning performances for England’s cricket team.

The latest masterclass by the swashbuckling allrounder has taken the test series against the West Indies to a decider.

Stokes delivered crucial contributions with bat and ball to lead England to a 113-run win late on the final day of the second test, tying the three-match series at 1-1 on Monday and earning him the nickname “Mr. Incredible” by his captain.

Having already put England in charge of the test after a patient 176 in the first innings, Stokes transitioned to limited-overs mode to smash an unbeaten 78 off 57 balls early on day five, allowing England to declare after 11 overs on 129-3 and set the West Indies an unlikely victory target of 312.

Survival quickly became the aim for the tourists, who needed to bat out 70 more overs to salvage a draw and retain the Wisden Trophy, after they were reduced to 37-4 after 15 overs.

A fifth-wicket stand of 100 runs between Shamarh Brooks (62) and Jermaine Blackwood (55) gave them hope of a draw heading into the final over before tea.

Enter Stokes.

England’s World Cup hero from last year made the huge breakthrough as Blackwood gloved a ball down the legside to diving wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, igniting England’s charge to victory.

With 14.5 overs — or one hour — left of a test played at an empty Old Trafford because of the coronavirus pandemic, the West Indies was dismissed for 198.

“Everyone understands that we are watching a player at the peak of his powers, at the peak of world cricket, who is delivering time and time again,” England captain Joe Root said.

“He just seems to get better and better. I feel lucky, I don’t know what else to say. We have to savor that, appreciate that, and we have to understand that we are — without wanting to pump his tires too much — in the presence of greatness.”

Stokes is thriving under the pressure — be it in a World Cup final, a lost Ashes cause at Headingley or another day-five finale in Cape Town at the turn of the year.

“It’s a case of doing what’s needed at the time,” he said. “I’ll always try to do whatever is needed. I’ve been round a long time now and I have that understanding of the role models we are.

“We want to pave the way for England cricketers in 20 years’ time. It’s not all about the present, it’s about taking the cap forward. … We’ve a duty to win games but also to youngsters who want to aspire to be like us.”

Stokes has 343 runs already in this series, at 114.33, along with nine wickets heading into the third test that starts on Friday and will also be in Manchester.

In what appeared to be a concern for England ahead of the third test, Stokes failed to complete his 15th, and what proved to be final, over of the day.

However, he said there was “absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“To be honest,” Stokes said, “it was just the body. I feel very old this test match. It was a bit of body stiffness.”

There was some defiance by the West Indies’ lower order in the final session but spinner Dom Bess took two wickets, including the last one of Kemar Roach to short leg Ollie Pope, who needed two grabs to snaffle the chance.

“I’m a little disappointed with the way we batted,” West Indies captain Jason Holder said.

“It’s all to play for. This is the perfect return to cricket.”

England wrapped up victory with big bowling performances over the last two days, after a full day — on Saturday — lost to rain in Manchester.

England will likely freshen up its attack for the third test, with James Anderson, Mark Wood and Jofra Archer pushing for recalls, but Stuart Broad staked a claim to stay in the team by claiming three wickets in each of the West Indies’ innings.

He took three of the first four wickets on Monday, finishing with 3-42.

This is the first series of international cricket since the return of the sport after a four-month shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tests are being played without spectators and in isolated environments.

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