Ben Stokes leads England to an Ashes miracle at Headingley
It really was that good and there is one man to thank for a victory that has brought England come back from the dead in this Ashes series – Ben Stokes.
This wasn’t only a reprise of Ian Botham’s heroics at this ground against Australia in 1981 – this was even better.
Stokes, the architect of his country’s barely-believable triumph in last month’s World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s, is a cricketer who makes people believe anything is possible.
And this is why.
On a crazy fourth day in Leeds, the all-rounder bent this contest to his will and in one fell swoop levelled up the series at 1-1 heading into the final two Tests.
England successfully completed a record Test run chase of 359 to win by one wicket – the tightest margin of victory in an Ashes series since the two-run win at Edgbaston in 2005, previously the “Greatest Ever Test”.
No team other than Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948, who successfully pursued 404, have chased down more at Headingley. England will forever be indebted to their own Invincible in Stokes. He was the only barrier to an Australian victory when England lost Stuart Broad, their ninth wicket, with 73 still needed. The Ashes were gone. But that was not legislating for the brilliance of Stokes.
Whether Australia can come back from this is debatable.
The manner of the defeat for the tourists was agonising. Having bowled England out for 67 on the second day, the retention of the Ashes at the earliest available opportunity was firmly in their grasp. But they blew it.
Nobody will feel the pain of defeat more than Nathan Lyon.
With England nine wickets down and still needing two to win in the penultimate over, Jack Leach set off on a suicidal run before he was turned back by Stokes. When the throw from Pat Cummins came in to Lyon at the non-striker’s end Leach was close enough to his batting partner to smell his breath.
But Lyon fumbled and Leach scrambled back to find his ground.
With the next ball Lyon trapped Stokes lbw but umpire Joel Wilson was unmoved. Australia, who had blown their last review in the previous over attempting to get Leach lbw to Pat Cummins, had no recourse to technology, which showed the ball smashing into the stumps.
Leach then scrambled a single off Cummins three balls into the next over. Scores level. The third tied Test match in history? No chance.
All it took was one more delivery, Stokes flaying Cummins through the covers for four. The Miracle of Headingley MKII was complete.
At the end England had completed their record Test chase – beating the 332-7 against Australia at Melbourne in 1928.
They had also contributed to one of the most frantic and logic-defying finishes in the sport’s history for the second time in just over a month. And just as in that World Cup final, Stokes was at the centre of the drama. Overnight, he had made two from 50 balls as England closed the third day on 156 for three. Their chances of victory, given the match situation and Australia’s brilliant seam attack were almost non-existent.
While the heart of every England fan at a sold-out Headingley would have been dreaming of a famous win, cold, hard cricketing logic told you it just couldn’t happen.
However, Stokes is a player who defies logic, who makes people dare to dream and it is to his eternal credit that he realised those dreams on this dramatic day.
It all started for him in the fourth over of the day when, still on two, he had his helmet obliterated by a Josh Hazlewood short ball.
By lunch he had lost captain Joe Root when he was caught brilliantly by David Warner off Lyon. But a 79-run stand with Jonny Bairstow that had seen off the second new ball took England to 238-4 at lunch, 121 from victory.
Yet the loss of three wickets – Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes – for 16 after lunch seemed to have done for England. By the time Jofra Archer’s cameo of 15 was brought to a close by a brainless slog, 73 were needed. The equation was the same when Broad departed.
Enter Stokes, whose innings will forever be remembered for three shots – the switch-hitting of Lyon for six that brought the required runs down to 50, an audacious swoop off James Pattinson that brought it down to 40 and then the four off Hazlewood that brought up his eighth Test hundred.
At the landmark, so in the zone was Stokes that he didn’t even celebrate. He still had work to do. The way he completed it was glorious and has kept this Ashes series alive.