Leach out and touch the sky!
England's bespectacled No.11 batsman Jack can't be placed too far away from Headingley hero Ben Stokes in the Ashes 2019 hall of fame
Ben Stokes will forever be viewed, like Sir Ian Botham said, as the Special One. What Stokes did to the Australians at Leeds on Sunday was as unbelievable as Botham's heroics at Leeds in 1981; as unfathomable as India's Eden Gardens conquest of Australia in 2001 and as inspiring as Brian Lara's match-winning 153 that stunned Australia at Barbados in 1999.
To bat with a No.11 batsman needs a different kind of skill — a smarter version of street smartness — and Stokes displayed all of that, although it may have been agonising for him to see his partner Jack Leach bat from the other end. Leach walked in when England needed 73 more and he proved to the world that his dictionary didn't include the word impossible. He was at the crease for one hour, faced 17 balls and scored the most important single of the match when he jabbed one off Pat Cummins to level the scores and get Stokes on strike.
The trepidation with which people viewed Leach's innings notwithstanding (and that mindless rushing to the other end which nearly got him run out), it should be remembered that he came in as a nightwatchman in the one-off Test against Ireland and scored 92 in the second innings. Sure, he was lucky at Lord's as there were a few missed chances, but he proved that he is much better than a typical No.11 batsman.
Stokes was generous in praise for his partner. "It takes two to tango in situations like these. For a No.11 to come out and deliver when he needed to deliver was fantastic. A lot of credit must go to him for helping us cross the line," he said.
Leach reminded some Indian cricket lovers of the exploits from Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha, who kept VVS Laxman company for India to win the Mohali Test against Australia in 2010. No.10 Ishant (31 off 92 balls) put on 81 with Laxman for the ninth wicket, before No.11 Ojha stayed unbeaten with five in 10 balls for India to win by one wicket. It was a superhuman effort by Laxman and he showed his human side too when he read the riot act to Ojha for running to the other end without watching the ball.
In 1964, batting stalwart Chandu Borde didn't have to bat with the No.11 (BS Chandrasekhar, whose scores in his last five innings read 0, 16, 0, 3 and 1) to guide India to a two-wicket victory over the same opponents at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. That's because his partner KS Indrajitsinhji batted sensibly for 41 minutes to see India reach their 254-run target, putting on 32 with Borde. The wicketkeeper, who went on the 1967-68 tour of Australia as Farokh Engineer's understudy, kept Graham McKenzie, one of the finest fast bowlers in international cricket then, at bay for one over. Borde then square cut Tom Veivers's third ball; a boundary which caused the crowd to prepare for the celebrations. The off-spinner's next ball was pulled by Borde to midwicket. Bob Simpson's Australians didn't bother chasing the ball. They headed to a silent dressing room. Veteran journalist GK Menon recalled asking captain Bob Simpson to analyse his side's defeat and he blamed himself for dropping MAK Pataudi twice, well before the India captain was dismissed for 53. India's triumph is rated as one of the most thrilling Test victories in India-Australia history and those who were at the Brabourne Stadium on October 15, 1964 cannot forget the festive atmosphere. Borde is reported to have lost his bat in the melee.
"Borde (30 not out) played an innings which will rank as one of the best played by an Indian cricketer under critical circumstances. Inderjitsinh gave him yeoman support. In cricket, it is two who make a stand and although Borde was dominant and aggressive, the merit of Inderjitsinh's innings can never be calculated by the number of runs he made. But for him, Borde could not have made the winning hit for India," wrote Vijay Merchant in the 1965 Indian Cricket annual.
West Indian pace ace Courtney Walsh too was a tailend hero — in the Barbados Test of 1999. The Jamaican entered the scene as the last man (with the hosts needing six runs to win) with Lara as his partner. Walsh blocked Jason Gillespie and frustrated Glenn McGrath for five balls without scoring a run, before Lara's four off Gillespie sealed the issue. The same Kensington Oval crowd that was silent when last man Walsh walked in to bat were now delirious with joy. He said later that he didn't want be the player to be dismissed in that situation and it didn't matter if there were no runs against his name on that famous scoresheet.
Successful No.11 batsmen should hold a special place in history, not far away from the gallery of match-winners. While Stokes took one's breath away at Leeds, Leach helped England breathe again in the series.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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