Consistent Genius: Ben Stokes’ sensational Ashes performance and the inspiration it offers English football
Sunday 25th of August 2019 – in what’s since been described as the most incredible innings in cricketing history, Ben Stokes sensationally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as England beat Australia by a single wicket in the third Test of the Ashes series. Cue delirium in Blighty. Before Stokes’ heroics, England’s hopes of glory in the Ashes had been reduced to embers, but thanks to his genius they’re a roaring inferno once more. Ben didn’t just stoke the fire; he poured petrol all over it.
In writing, I’ve always tended towards hyperbole. It’s something I’m trying to eliminate. In moments like this, it feels as though I’ve used up all my linguistic capital – it makes it hard to do justice to how bewildering, how sensational, how era-defining this performance really was. Stokes was magisterial. “This will all be forgotten if we lose” – the all-rounder’s words in the post-match press-conference present an individual blessed, not just with remarkable ability, but with the recognition that in order to achieve greatness, greatness must be sustained. Here at Gadsby’s England, we don’t want to steal cricket’s thunder (not that we’re capable!), but we can’t help but agonize over why our footballers seem unable to do the same.
To suggest England’s various footballing failures over the past 50 years are due solely to a lack of bottle is not exactly a ‘hot take’ – in fact, it’s both a lazy trope and a wholly inaccurate one. Who could ever accuse Rooney, Gascoigne, Butcher, Gerrard, Terry, and Wilkins of a lack of steel? No, combined with tactical deficiencies, it’s the apparent inability of our world-class players to be world-class in crucial moments which has hamstrung us. But this isn’t because they don’t ‘want it enough’ – in actuality it’s because they’re not quite good enough. Our football team needs a Stokes, someone who can be brilliant, and brilliant consistently.
But how? Maybe England hasn’t been blessed with such a generational talent. Or perhaps our footballing culture, which is instinctively distrustful of flair and individuality, hasn’t allowed one to blossom. It happened with Rooney, it happened with Sterling, it’ll probably happen with Sancho too – we don’t like footballers when they’re too good. How can we expect our footballers to achieve the same level of consistent greatness as Stokes when we don’t let them be great in the first place?
But it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; let’s actively encourage individuality, panache, and instinctive brilliance. If we do, our footballers might stand a chance of emulating Stokes’ consistent genius. Until then, the cricket will have to do.