The whole English cricket world came to a halt on Sunday, August 25 when Ben Stokes scripted a miracle at Headingley to not only win the third Ashes Test for his team but also prevent Australia from retaining it. This sparked off a series of exclamatory remarks and comments from everyone who witnessed the knock.
No less a person that Sir Geoffrey Boycott said Stokes' innings is the best that he has seen in over 5 decades of his watching cricket. Many others have also judged the innings to be the best knock in Test history. But after the dust had settled at Headingley and the uncontrollable exultation subsided, the claim of this innings being the best ever begin to be studied more closely.
There is one knock in particular that many people, especially Indians, are pointing to as having been a better one than Stokes' 135 not out. It is the epic 281 scripted by VVS Laxman at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the famous 2001 Test.
So, which one is the better knock: Laxman's or Stokes'? For that, let us compare the two innings on several parameters.
Length of the innings
Stokes scored 135 not out and Laxman 281. So, it seems clear that Laxman's innings was of a much bigger scale. However, the bare score doesn't convey the fact that Stokes took more than 150 balls to get to his fifty. It shows that he had to battle it out early on before launching an all out attack in the latter part of his innings.
Laxman's 281 consisted of 452 deliveries. So, it was certainly a much longer knock. One can say, in literary terms, that Laxman's knock was an epic while Stokes' was a masterpiece of normal length.
What made Laxman's innings memorable were the circumstances in which it came. India were following on in the second Test of a 3-Test series and had lost the first game. The Australians had won 16 Tests in a row heading into this match. India were 42 runs short of avoiding an innings defeat when they lost their fourth wicket. The pitch had plenty of help for spinners and there was rough outside the leg stump for Shane Warne to work with. So, this was an innings against all odds. However, Laxman did have the support of a great batsman at the other end in Rahul Dravid.
Stokes' on the other hand was batting with his team 9-down and needing 73 runs to win. They were one wicket away from letting Australia retain the Ashes. The pitch, though, was still good for batting but there were rough patches outside Stokes' off stump for off-spinner Lyon to work with. Stokes not only had to score runs himself but also protect his partner by letting him face as few of the deliveries as possible, something he did really well.
So, both knocks came when the situation was grim for the two teams.
Bowling attacks against them
The bowling attack faced by Laxman included two all-time great bowlers in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Along with them, two other very capable bowlers in Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz were also in the line-up.
The Australian bowling attack against Stokes had Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson for seamers and Nathan Lyon as the sole spinner. None of these bowlers are, as yet, considered legends of the game. However, they were all in great form and had bowled out England for 67 in the first innings.
Again, it's hard to decide which bowling attack was more threatening.
It is hard to come up with a definite answer to the question of who played the better knock. However, Laxman certainly seems to have an edge considering the magnum opus-like nature of his innings and the feat of having denied Shane Warne, arguably the greatest spinner of all time, his wicket despite the rough outside the leg-stump. In the end, it's a highly subjective assessment and every person will have his own unique view.