Ben Stokes says that the extraordinary unbeaten hundred with which he carried England to a one-wicket win over Australia at Headingley this summer was inspired by David Warner’s incessant goading from the slip cordon.
In a new book, On Fire, which chronicles his remarkable performances throughout the 2019 season, Stokes recalls how Warner set out to distract him during his unbeaten 135 in the third Test, particularly in the early part of the innings on the third evening of the match, when his only objective was to reach stumps with his wicket intact.
With England 1-0 down in the series after their opening defeat at Edgbaston, their hopes of regaining the Ashes appeared to be over when they were bowled out for 67 in their first innings at Headingley, before eventually being set a target of 359 to square the series with two to play.
And after arriving at the crease in the final hour of the third day, Stokes ground his way to the close on 2 not out from 50 balls in partnership with Joe Root, as England sought to keep their hopes alive.
In a book extract published in the Daily Mirror, Stokes noted how Warner had given the impression of being a reformed character after completing his year-long ban for ball-tampering.
However, with Warner in the midst of a terrible run of form that would result in him making 95 runs in ten innings, the lowest return by any opener in a five-Test series, Stokes also suggested that he had reverted to type in a bid to bring out the best in himself.
“I had extra personal motivation due to some things that were said to me out on the field on the evening of day three when I was trying to get through to stumps,” Stokes wrote. “A few of the Aussies were being quite chirpy, but in particular David Warner seemed to have his heart set on disrupting me.
“He just wouldn’t shut up for most of my time out there. I could accept it from just about any other opponent. Truly. Not from him, though.
“The changed man he was adamant he’d become, the one that hardly said boo to a goose and even went as far as claiming he had been re-nicknamed ‘Humble’ by his Australia teammates, had disappeared. Maybe his lack of form in his new guise had persuaded him that he needed to get the bull back?”
Warner’s solitary Ashes half-century came in the first innings at Headingley, but second-time around, he was trapped lbw by Stuart Broad for a second-ball duck, one of a record-equalling seven dismissals by Broad in the course of the series.
“Although he’d enjoyed a prolific World Cup campaign, he had struggled with the bat at the start of the Ashes and was perhaps turning to his old ways to try to get the best out of himself,” Stokes wrote. “The nice-guy act had done nothing for his runs column.
“I muttered ‘Bloody Warner’ a few times as I was getting changed. The more time passed, the more it spurred me on. All kinds of ideas of what I might say to him at the end of the game went through my head. In the end, I vowed to do nothing other than shake his hand and say ‘Well done’ if I could manufacture the situation.
“You always shake the hands of every member of the opposing team at the end of a match. But this one would give me the greatest sense of satisfaction.”
Stokes went on to square the series in remarkable fashion, adding 76 runs for England’s tenth wicket with Jack Leach, who finished on 1 not out. Australia then won the subsequent Test at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes, but England’s win in the final Test at The Oval ensured the first drawn Ashes series since 1972.
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