Ben Stokes returned with a vengeance to his best bowling form as his career-best six-wicket Test haul overshadowed even James Anderson against West Indies at Lord’s.
A capacity crowd at HQ gathered to will Anderson on to a piece of history as the first Englishman to reach 500 Test wickets – and after he took the first two in West Indies’ 123 all out, it seemed a certainty he would achieve the unique milestone on day one of this deciding third Test in the Investec series.
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Instead, though, it was Stokes who cashed in on his and bowling coach Ottis Gibson’s hard work to become the sixth England cricketer to put himself on the famous honours board here in both disciplines – leaving Anderson stranded, until the second innings at least, on 499.
Stokes’ six for 22, in a wonderful two-hour spell of fast swing bowling from the nursery end, came in 14.3 overs unbroken either side of tea as the Windies lost their last seven for 45 runs.
England then closed on a vulnerable 46 for four themselves, with Stokes unbeaten on 13, in conditions which ensured throughout that ball mastered bat under heavy cloud cover.
But for Stokes, who had mustered only 10 wickets in this summer’s previous six Tests, it was nonetheless a performance to remember.
Asked if this was perhaps the best he has ever bowled in Test cricket, he said: “Yes, I think so.
“It was obviously swinging when I got the ball in my hands – and when it does swing like that, it’s a good opportunity just to run up and know it’s going to do something.”
Captain Joe Root wisely did not interrupt Stokes’ marathon spell – although at one point, Anderson did think he might be about to get the nod to try his luck again.
“Rooty let me bowl for a long time, which I quite enjoy doing,” Stokes added.
“Jimmy and I were a bit confused at one point, because he came to take his stuff off but I already had my hat and jumper off – and Joe just said ‘Oh, keep going’.
“Then after that, he just told me ‘Keep going after the break as well’.”
A modest Stokes said afterwards that he felt he owed England some wickets this season.
“I hope it’s a starting point and I can start producing some better performances with the ball,” he added.
“I’ve felt the last three or four weeks I was getting back to more consistency with my action but not quite producing what I wanted to (in the middle) … and I was letting the team down a little bit.
“But to go out there and bowl the way I did today was a monkey off my back.”
Stokes made sure to mention the help he has received from Gibson, in the last match of his second stint with England before leaving to take charge of South Africa.
“The hard work contributes towards success, which is why I gave a little wave up to Gibbo – he’s helped me over the last six or seven weeks,” he said.
“He’s put loads of hours in with technical stuff, bowling in the mornings. If it wasn’t for him, I’m not sure I’d have had a day like I did today.
“Obviously at Lord’s, the home of cricket, to be on one honours board (is great) … no one can take it away from you – and I’ll always be able to say I’m on there through batting and bowling.”
It was a miracle Anderson did not complete his 500 in one over especially as he continually beat tailender Devendra Bishoo but could not find the edge or the stumps.
“That over he bowled to Bishoo was the best over in the history of Test cricket not to get a wicket,” said Stokes.
“I’ve got no idea how he didn’t manage to get one. But he’s got another crack at getting the big 500, and I’m sure he will.
“He’s been a class performer, and I hope I’m on the pitch when he manages to get it.”
West Indies’ batting coach Toby Radford could only congratulate England, and Stokes in particular, on how they expertly exploited conditions at what was once his own home ground.
“I’d say the way it swung and seamed around all day, 220 to 250 would have been a good score,” he said.
“Credit where it’s due … I thought they bowled particularly well.
“I thought Stokes bowled exceptionally, and it was difficult for people coming to the wicket with him bowling such an inspired spell, with the ball swinging prodigiously both ways.”