And they said Test cricket was in its death throes! This epic, attention-grabbing, emotion-wringing Ashes series ended in the last minutes of the last hour of the last session of the last day of the last match: who could ask for more? England have had a number of very good captains since Mike Brearley took voluntary redundancy from the job (for the second time) in 1981, but Ben Stokes has really measured up to his illustrious predecessor over the past six weeks of mesmerising sport. They are cut from very different cloth: Stokes is more intuitive than Brearley, who was perhaps more cerebrally attuned to the needs of leadership.
There is little doubt that had the two sides in the Ashes switched captains, Australia would have won at a canter. Which is not to diminish Pat Cummins as a man or a cricketer. As a captain though, he was way behind Stokes, who was helped in a small way by the injury that reduced him to a part-time bowler. Cummins, meanwhile, has had to lead the team over six exhausting Test matches, including the World Championship, as well as flogging himself as the tireless spearhead of the pace-bowling attack.
Of all Stokes’s extraordinary achievements as player, captain and tactician, one stands out in its Brearley-esque psychological power. In his response to the controversy over the Bairstow stumping at Lord’s, Stokes confined himself to commenting, ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to win that way.’ It was magnificently brief, pointedly critical of Cummins and Carey, while also quietly claiming the moral high ground.
Not forgetting Stuart Broad, who managed to turn the final Ashes Test into a festival of Broad, bandanas and bails. Broad is so canny that he convinced the world his retirement was a last-minute decision, when clearly it had been on the cards for some time, and Sky had a lengthy highlights and tribute package firmly in the can ready for the big day.