Stokes next faced up to the other Leach, not Jack his partner in the historic Headingley game but Joe the Worcestershire seamer. He inside-edged a ball on to his pad and ran two, eagerly. Just because it is a county game, Stokes does not stop playing flat out.
Stopping a ball from Gibbon in his crease, Stokes stooped to pick it up and toss to a fielder. Someone with airs and graces would have let the fielder do the work. But ego is not a part of Stokes’s calculations: a volcanic temperament for sure, and immense athleticism, but never a show-pony.
Another single off Gibbon for a half-stopped cover-drive, then Stokes advanced at Leach and thrashed him down the ground. Durham needed less than four runs per over to take full batting points – for reaching 400 off 110 overs – so there was no need for full-blooded power. I just fancied it.
When Worcestershire’s right-arm seamer Adam Finch took over from Gibbon, Durham needed 18 from four overs for full points. Stokes’s partner David Bedingham was intent on a century, so Stokes picked up a six and pulled a four off Ed Barnard then straight-drove Finch for six to settle the issue.
By now it had all flooded back. Batting was so easy to him Stokes picked up a second six off Barnard, his third in all, which went out so far out of the ground the ball had to be replaced: that gave him 39 off his first 40 balls of the season.
To bring up his 50, Stokes slapped and pulled Barnard for two more fours, reaching his half-century off 47 balls. It was a knock of mid-season form, masterly in its modest way, with the best yet to come
Stokes drove Finch over extra-cover for his fourth six; he pull-drove Leach for his fifth six, changed his bat, on 70 off 59 balls, then tucked into the young left-arm spinner Baker for five consecutive sixes and 34 off the over.
Stokes swung the first two of these sixes legside then drove the next three straight. With the last of these five successive sixes off Baker, his tenth in all, he reached his 100 exactly off only 64 balls. The new bat worked all right but he could only hit the last ball straight for four as it was full, straight and quick for a slow left-armer. The crowd groaned in anti-climax. Stokes smiled rudely: only 34 off the over.
In his last game for England, in the Grenada debacle in the last week of March, Stokes had scored only two and four, so he needed these runs. His 120 of him in the previous Test in Barbados was the biggest highlight of his batting winter, perhaps the only highlight.
The difference between then and now is that Stokes had been batting for England at number five. For Durham in this game he is batting at number six, and so too for England in the future, according to his own public declaration of intent.
This is far too modest, irrespective of how much he bowls. Number six is too low a position for Stokes to make the most of his charismatic influence on him. Others can bowl. Only he can stride out and turn a game around psychologically: maybe not even a few swift blows but a few resolute blocks that echo the first phase of his magnum opus from him, his Headingley hundred of 2019.
Stokes as the Test captain has it in him to acquire an almost Viv Richards-like aura, which daunts opponents before he faces a ball – but it cannot be done at number six, once the game has been shaped, it has to be at five or four. The King cannot wait to make his entrance from him until Act 3.
In the warm-up before day two Stokes bowled off his full run. There might have been a favoring of his left knee, and a little less bounce, but it was still at a decent lick so he is still an all-rounder, or batsman who bowls.
Many Stokes skeptics prophesy that his reign will end in tears, sooner not later. Yet if Stokes the captain does enter a new stage of his career, as England’s finest ever left-handed batsman, England will have a distinct chance of regaining the Ashes next summer. Under anyone else, they would have none.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.