Miracle in Leeds! Herculean Stokes keeps Ashes alive
England come back from 67 all out to win epic Test by one wicket, thanks to one of the greatest Ashes innings of all time from Ben Stokes
Andrew Ramsey at Headingley, Leeds
26 August 2019, 07:00 AM AEST
It's 38 years since Ian Botham single-handedly destroyed Australia at Headingley and rewrote Ashes lore with his efforts during what has since been known simply as 'Botham's Ashes'.
At around 4.15pm on a blindingly bright Leeds Sunday afternoon, Stokes put the previous great allrounder in the shade with a barely believable, undefeated century that led England to a one-wicket win.
But for all the figures and data that will accompany the result – which levels this compelling series at 1-1, after England produced their largest ever fourth innings to win a Test – what can scarcely be captured is the character and audacity contained in Stokes' 330-minute knock.
When he fittingly hit the winning runs, a back-foot punch through cover from Pat Cummins as the entire Australia team crowded the in-field, he stood with arms raised in triumph and roared a war-cry towards the deliriously euphoric fans in Headingley's western terrace.
Regardless of whether England can ride the wave of a most extraordinary summer to reclaim the urn in the remaining two Tests against Australia, this series already belongs to Stokes.
Riven with cramps on a Yorkshire day that proved as hot as it was memorable, and with his team needing a distant 73 more runs when he was joined by last man Jack Leach, Stokes switched immediately into super-human mode.
It was a persona he had adopted with the ball as Australia looked to build a match-winning lead on days two and three, when he sent down 24 overs virtually unchanged to take three pivotal wickets.
The 28-year-old was then granted six hours rest before he was called into service again, this time with the bat and with England pursuing an even more unlikely target than Stokes carried them to in the World Cup final five weeks ago.
Having taken 215 minutes and 152 balls to reach 50 – the slowest march to that milestone in his Test career – he exploded into full T20 mode in his partnership with Leach, who scored one as Stokes blasted four boundaries and seven sixes.
In the end, Australia must shoulder some of the blame for failing to secure the win that seemed theirs for the taking when Leach joined Stokes.
In the course of a crazy over from Nathan Lyon, Stokes was dropped on the long-off rope, although it was doubtful the fielder could have kept himself in the field of play had he completed the grab.
However, there was no such mitigation for the missed run out that came two balls later when Leach backed up too far and Lyon needed only to take the lobbed return and break the stumps.
But in an emblematic moment, the ball bobbled through Lyon's anxious fingers.
He should have redeemed himself with his next delivery, when Stokes missed a sweep shot that replays showed would have hit the stumps, but on-field umpire Joel Wilson declined the appeal and Australia had torched their final right to review an over earlier in profligate fashion.
Lyon was left sprawled on the Headingley turf, bereft, for almost a minute after the winning run was struck and Stokes and Leach embraced in the middle.
Indeed, almost every Australia fielder remained rooted to the spot, unable to believe how quickly and ruthlessly a seemingly assured win had turned into a loss that will echo for many years to come.
If only because Stokes' innings will now replace the grainy heroics of Botham in 1981 every time a program on the most memorable Ashes contests is aired.
It was a win that had seemed vaguely plausible as England prospered in the morning session to reduce the 359 victory target to 121 at lunch, with six wickets up their sleeve.
But the dismissal of Jonny Bairstow, with whom he had shared a defiant 86-run stand for the fifth wicket that seemed to have their team on track for an historic win, shortly after lunch brought a stunning late-order collapse.
From the time Bairstow fell, with England within 114 runs off a win, their next five wickets tumbled for 41 in barely 16 overs.
Throughout a breathless day, Stokes had lived a number of contrasting roles – hyper-vigilant at morning's start, careful acceleration when Bairstow was in full flight, nervous admiration as Jofra Archer tried to belt England to their target, and final brutal belligerence when only Leach remained.
Included in that epic knock was the frightening blow to the helmet he took when he had scored just two, when Josh Hazlewood hit him with such force that the protective neck guards clipped on to the lid flew off like the fins from a Formula One car in a high-speed crash.
That scary moment came in the day's fourth over, and effectively set the scene for what unfurled over the ensuing two sessions.
Bairstow came to the crease after his skipper and fellow Yorkshireman, Joe Root, was dismissed in the morning's sixth over and with the second new ball just minutes away.
But he changed the tempo of the game, after Root and Stokes had all but stalled in the face of some parsimonious Australia bowling in the first half-hour.
Having conceded just 10 runs from the 50 deliveries until the new ball was introduced, the ensuing 10 overs saw England reduce their target by 63 with Bairstow the reason for the sudden turnaround.
The 29-year-old marched to the wicket wearing a steely stare of defiance, and no sooner were Australia's quicks brought back with new ball in hand than he was boldly counter-punching.
Bairstow was off the mark from the second ball he faced, and revealed his intent when he scampered through a cheeky third run off Hazlewood's bowling.
Perhaps the most important legacy to flow from Bairstow's bravado was that it brought Stokes to life in concert as the momentum shifted and the Headingley full-house on a balmy long-weekend Sunday found voice.
Bairstow's consecutive boundaries from Hazlewood was followed by even more expansive offerings from Stokes – a boundary carved over the slips cordon when the allrounder leaned back against Pattinson, and a flick off the hip that sailed beyond the rope from Pat Cummins' bowling.
As Australia pushed seemingly too hard for a breakthrough, and frustrations grew with every fielding fumble or slight error in execution, it appeared that the newly crowned world champions had reverted to one-day mode.
But a crucial change in bowling strategy shortly before lunch would ultimately blow the game apart.
Tim Paine went to Cummins and Lyon to quell the flow of runs and allow his team to catch their breath at the adjournment.
From the time that Cummins was hoisted into the crowd by Stokes until the rivals walked off for lunch, Australia coughed up just nine runs from 41 balls which ensured whatever meal they took sat slightly easier.
The pressure that built prior to the adjournment brought a breakthrough soon after.
Bairstow had been given out to an errant caught-behind decision off Hazlewood on 35, but made life simple for the umpire in the seamer's next over when he guided a catch from the bat's toe-end to second slip.
In line with the ancient adage, the capture of one wicket brought more as the game again changed course like a shallow-draft jet boat.
Jos Buttler, who has built his reputation as a master of orchestrating improbable run chases in white-ball formats, was burned by Stokes who called him for a single, then sent him back but not soon enough to beat Travis Head's pinpoint underarm from mid-wicket.
A quarter-hour later, Chris Woakes - after surviving a barrage of short-pitched balls – leaned lazily into a rare, full offering and spooned it limply to extra cover.
In the space of 10 overs after lunch, England had surrendered 3-23 and when Archer joined Stokes victory lay 98 runs in the distance.
The next 27 runs came at pace as Archer chanced his arm but, upon doing it once too often, it was left to Stokes to steal a win.
Which, as history will record but only those who witnessed it will perhaps every truly understand, he did.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
England XI: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Jack Leach
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval