A month after holding the nerve to guide England to their maiden World Cup victory, a lot relied on Ben Stokes to keep the Ashes alive for them in Headingley. Ben Stokes’ heroics are similar to the replica of Ian Botham’s exploits 38 years ago at the same venue.
Australia breached their fortress Edgbaston, courtesy of Steve Smith’s twin centuries while holding out for a draw, owing to Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head. While England had the luxury of Smith’s absence, the hosts had it far from easy.
Jofra Archer’s career-best figures of 17.1-3-45-6 limited Australia to 179 in vastly bowler-friendly conditions on the first day. Labuschagne registered his second successive half-century while David Warner passed 50 for the first time in the series as the visitors’ scorecard bore for far less than an impressive reading. Australia’s hopes lay on Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and James Pattinson to produce a miracle.
And miracle bestowed upon them amid the sun smiling on England to tear Australia’s bowling into pieces. But Englishmen’s reckless shot-making and teasing deliveries outside off-stump often contributed to their downfall. Amongst the eleven men, only Joe Denly managed to reach double figures while Ben Stokes’ dismissal was the most awful of the lot.
The southpaw chased an extensively wide and full delivery from Pattinson that played safely into the hands of Warner at slip. England crashed to 67, which was their lowest Ashes total since 1948. Hazlewood grabbed a fifer while Cummins and Pattinson snared two and three respectively as the visitors hardly needed any effort from Nathan Lyon.
Now ahead by 112 runs, Australia was the team the least under pressure. Nevertheless, barring Labuschagne, none of the other batsmen could go past fifty. Labuschagne’s stands with Head of 45 and Wade of 66 were the most integral, both of which Stokes broke. The South African-born shared another half-century partnership with Pattinson before he was run out for 80. Australia added only nine more runs, giving England to chase 359 in more than two days.
England bring the game in balance:
England lost both their openers within ten overs in pursuit of a steep target. It was also here that Denly’s reputation as a bonafide Test batsman elevated as he performed a rearguard of 155 deliveries for his half-century, adding 126 for the third wicket with skipper Joe Root.
It took the next man Stokes nine balls to get off the mark and spent the next 41 deliveries, managing one more run as the hosts finished day three at 156-3.
It took Lyon only four overs to strike in the subsequent day, plucking Root for 77, handing England a vital blow. However, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow were done with the old-school play, launching a counterattack as the pair added quick runs.
By lunch, the Englishmen had six wickets in their hand, requiring only 121 more with the partnership surging to 82. Hazlewood’s golden arm drew the edge of Bairstow, removing him for 36 as Australia halted their charge on 86.
In the space of six overs, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes headed towards the dressing room too. With seven down, Jofra Archer began showing his intent from the word go. After Archer’s two mighty slogs fetched him a couple of boundaries, he holed out to deep square leg, where Head grabbed a nervous take at the edge of the fence.
Arise, Sir Ben Stokes:
Stuart Broad was next to go as a pin-point yorker from Pattinson resulted in a two-ball duck. England still found themselves 73 away from keeping the Ashes alive as Jack Leach; the last man walked out, wearing glasses. In the next four overs, Ben Stokes clattered four sixes, three of which came off Lyon.
In Hazlewood’s 31st over, who had four wickets to his credit, Stokes smashed 19 runs, including two sixes, bringing the equation down to needing 17. It also raised the 50-run stand between the pair with Leach contributing none to it.
Cummins’ next over saw Marcus Harris put down a tough chance running in from third man area as Ben Stokes bounced back to smash a couple of boundaries. It was in the final delivery of this over that Tim Paine would rue his decision for the rest of the life.
Paine sought for Australia’s last review against Leach, even realizing that the ball pitched outside leg stump and there was no chance of the umpire’s decision overturning.
With only eight needed now, there was more drama waiting to unfold. Stokes launched a mishit down the ground, which landed beyond the ropes as the batsman watched keenly from the crease till it did.
An exhausted Ben Stokes played an extravagant reverse-sweep, which could have resulted in a run-out had Lyon not fumbled at the non-striker’s end. Leach walked halfway down the pitch only to realize there was no run available.
In the last ball, Stokes failed to connect the slog sweep that thudded into his pad which Joel Wilson adjudged not out. Replays suggested that it straightened enough to clip the middle and leg.
If Paine had not burned the review, it could have been Australia’s version of Edgbaston 2005 in their favour. Leach was up against Cummins in the next over, surviving the first two balls and scampered for a single in the third to bring the scores level.
Stokes wasted no time as he hammered the next ball through the covers to complete a miraculous triumph with a wicket to spare. It was a testament to Stokes as to how far he developed himself as an all-rounder and an indispensable member of the English team.
It was in Perth six years ago that Ben Stokes registered his first Test hundred, being the only centurion in England’s disastrous outing down under. Five years later, Stokes was the lone warrior, but he made himself capable of doing the unthinkable.