England star Ben Stokes’ remarkable, match-winning innings against Australia at Headingley in August has topped a public poll of the 50 greatest performances by England cricketers in the last 50 years. The success of the England team on the field has also led to cricket fans being more likely to follow or play the game, in particular women and 16 to 24-year-olds.

The survey of 1,004 England cricket fans* carried out by Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) and NatWest to mark the 50th anniversary of PCA Awards today (2 October), resulted in three of Stokes’ performances being named in the top 10.

Sixty per cent of England fans placed Stokes’ heroics at Headingley – taking 3-56 and scoring 135 not out to seal an unbelievable win against Australia – in their top five England performances.

His 84 not out against New Zealand at Lord’s in the dramatic ICC Cricket World Cup final came second in the poll after two fifths of England fans voted for it. And the England all-rounder’s double century against South Africa at Cape Town in 2016 was voted seventh, giving Stokes a hat-trick of entries in the top 10 greatest England performances since 1970.

The success of the current crop of England players in the Cricket World Cup and drawing the subsequent Specsavers Ashes Series has had a positive effect on the public’s attitude towards cricket, in particular among women and young adults, according to the research:

• Over half of female respondents (54%) said they now watch cricket more on TV or listen to it on the radio as a result; compared to two fifths (41%) of men.
• Nearly half of women surveyed (46%) say they are more likely to go to a cricket match.
• This increases to 54% among 16 to 24-year olds who also show a greater interest in playing the sport.
• Over a third of young adults (36%) say they now want to play cricket more than in the past; the most of any other age group polled.

Speaking exclusively to PCA ahead of the NatWest PCA Awards, Ben Stokes gave an insight into his unforgettable Headingley innings: “When you are out there and trying to win the game you are in such a bubble you don’t let anything else get into that bubble. Obviously, you are aware of the atmosphere and the situation and the crowd but then when I eventually hit the winning runs it, the feelings I had, just went and it was ‘oh my god, this is incredible’.

“I was actually in the moment like everyone else was at that time, taking in the atmosphere, taking in the noise and looking around because everybody who was there in that ground on that day lived the same emotions as I did throughout that whole day, so to be able to take it all in and share that moment with them out there was pretty cool and something I’ll never forget.”

Stokes also reflected on the Cricket World Cup Final and the impact that this remarkable summer has had on English cricket: “It will be something I will look back at in 15-20 years’ time and truly understand and appreciate what those two occasions meant and what they did for cricket.

“We did not just want to win the World Cup and the Ashes this summer, we wanted to win over the country in terms of what we do with our cricket. We wanted to reach out to new fans, we wanted more people to take up cricket on what we could potentially achieve. We have won the World Cup and had a brilliant summer which is what we wanted but I am also 100% convinced we have created new fans, inspired the next generation of England players and got people watching cricket again to a bigger extent than any of us could have imagined.”

England’s World Cup winning captain Eoin Morgan supported the research by declaring Stokes’ Headingley performance his top of the pile: “My favourite individual performance over the last 50 years happened in this year’s Ashes: at Headingley, Ben Stokes became a legend. His performance with the bat supersedes any performance that I’ve ever seen in an England shirt. Every attribute that you need to play a Test Match innings, he displayed at Headingley and it was an absolute privilege to watch.”

Andrew Flintoff’s batting and bowling displays at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes earns him third place in the national survey, followed by Botham’s famous 149 not out against Australia at Headingley in 1981, ranked fourth. At number 5 is Stuart Broad and his jaw-dropping 8-15 bowling figures against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2015; his first of three entries in the top 50.

Alastair Cook, Bob Willis, James Anderson and Jos Buttler all make it into the top 10; but Kevin Pietersen just misses out with his first entry (227 v Australia at Adelaide in 2010) at number 13. However, Pietersen and Botham share the most entries overall (five each), followed by Broad, Cook and Stokes (three entries each) in the top 50.

Here is the top 10 greatest England performances from the past 50 years:

1. Ben Stokes: 3-56 & 135 not out v Australia at Headingley in 2019
2. Ben Stokes: 84 not out v New Zealand at Lord’s in 2019 ICC World Cup Final
3. Andrew Flintoff: 68, 3-52, 73 & 4-79 v Australia at Edgbaston in 2005
4. Ian Botham: 149 not out v Australia at Headingley in 1981
5. Stuart Broad: 8-15 v Australia at Trent Bridge in 2015
6. Alastair Cook: 71 & 147 v India at The Oval in 2018
7. Ben Stokes: 258 v South Africa at Cape Town in 2016
8. Bob Willis: 8-43 v Australia at Headingley in 1981
9. James Anderson: 2-54 & 3-45 v India at The Oval in 2018
10. Jos Buttler: 110 not out v Australia at Old Trafford in 2018

The research was conducted by the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) and Natwest.

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