Wish I'd Done That

Paul Stirling: 'I remember thinking, "That's the pinnacle of the game and Stokes has achieved it"'

The Ireland batter on a modern classic innings he wishes he'd played

As told to Matt Roller  |  

Stokes hits the last of his 11 fours in the innings, bringing up the win

Stokes hits the last of his 11 fours in the innings, bringing up the win © AFP/Getty Images

Ben Stokes: 135 not out vs Australia, Headingley, 2019

I don't usually get goosebumps watching cricket, or even playing it, but during the Ben Stokes knock to level the series in the 2019 Ashes, I definitely did.

Maybe I had a little bit more of an interest in that series because we had played England earlier in the summer, so I was following the Ashes quite closely.

I used to love watching the Aussies when I was really young. I always remember staying up at Christmas - which was one of the only times I was allowed to stay up to watch - for one session, or even two or three into the middle of the night. It felt like more often than not, Ricky Ponting was on 150 not out by the end of it.

I was at a barbecue at my friend's place in London that afternoon. We had a few days off with Middlesex at the time, and at the start we weren't really watching it - we had all assumed the match was over. We were stood outside with a burger and a beer or two, and it was on in the living room. Early on in his innings, we heard a couple of cheers from the crowd for boundaries and thought: "This can't still be on?"

It takes a lot to get the goosebumps going for me, but the ball just kept going for six - some were just creeping over, but others were going miles into the stands. There was one reverse-sweep where it was all over if he'd missed it - just like any of them, I suppose - but he couldn't stop hitting it out the middle of the bat. Then there was the moment when Nathan Lyon missed that take to run Jack Leach out; that's the stuff that only Ashes cricket can bring up.

I'm 100% a believer in "the zone". You get into this place where you lose track of time. The hard bit is switching it on and off in the period when the ball is dead, and then making sure you're in it between the bowler running in and you playing your shot. But when you're there, you're just in a different world.

Stokes was in the zone during that innings, absolutely no doubt about it. Looking at his eyes, you could see how pumped up he was. It didn't look like anything was going to come out of anywhere other than the middle. It was extraordinary.

I couldn't stop watching that slow-motion clip of him hitting the cut shot to win with the crowd going bananas behind him. I remember thinking: "Right, that's got to be the pinnacle of the game and he's just achieved it." I definitely wish I'd done that. I've probably played that innings a few times in my own head.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98