Ashes 2019: Ben Stokes performs the impossible to give cricket another golden chance

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Much changes for all of us in the aftermath of great sporting deeds. They have a long, lovely tail. You float along happily in their wake, wanting to stare from all angles all over again.

You don’t really want to move on because it was all so good that everything else seems a little tame in comparison.

You got the sense from Ben Stokes, in the giddy hours after his extraordinary solo rescue mission at Headingley on Sunday afternoon, that he hasn’t quite realised how much has changed for him.

When sportsmen and women pull off superhero displays like that, it no longer matters in some ways what they do next. They’ve cracked it. They have defined a day that those in the nation intoxicated by sport can never forget.

Nothing can take it away. Maybe Edna Mode can design him a new costume. The rest of it is already sewn up.

Ian Botham after Headingley ’81, Jessica Ennis-Hill after Super Saturday at London 2012, Andy Murray after that baking July day at Wimbledon in 2013.

All three would go on to further triumphs – Botham in Ashes series home and away, Ennis-Hill winning back her world title after time out for the birth of her first child, Murray winning a second Wimbledon singles title at a dreamy canter three years on.

Each was wonderful but the summit had already been scaled, just as whatever Stokes may do after this summer could surely only buttress what he has built rather than top it.

For those who were in the ground on Sunday it will be the same. Any late-night anecdotes about sporting occasions experienced will always have to begin with one particular ‘I was there’.

Richie Benaud famously described one of Botham’s mighty sixes 38 years ago as going straight into the confectionary stall and out again. Stokes’ reverse-sweep six into the Western Terrace went straight into the sweet spot too.

To be in the ground was to be part of a collective agony and ecstasy that no-one present will leave behind. To be following on radio, TV or phone was to abandon anything else that was meant to be happening, unless of course you took the logical step of walking away with 73 still required and Jack Leach walking in.

Just as there are Manchester United fans who left the Nou Camp in 1999 before Sheringham and Solskjaer ripped up the night and Manchester City supporters who fled Wembley before Horlock and Dickov intervened that same mad May, so there are England cricket fans who knew nothing of Stokes’ heroics until well after they were complete.

Car journeys where the radio channel had been angrily changed. Dogs already walked taken out for another. Phones lobbed on to the sofa and TVs switched over to the football.

These memories are as much a part of the communal experience because they underline the impossibility of it all. The frozen moments of hope and fear as another six skimmed the outstretched hands of Aussie fielders, the shared horror of the run-out that never was and the lbw that should have been.

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