Cricket

Ashes 2019 – Superman Stokes the hero as England win 3rd Test

Ben Stokes delivered one of the great Ashes – and Test match – innings, winning the 3rd Test for England by one wicket, in what will go down as one of the most, if not the, memorable games in cricket history. The win keeps England’s hopes alive of taking back the urn from Australia – who will look back at this game and wonder just how they lost it.

Fresh from the excitement, drama and breath-taking action from the 2019 World Cup Final, Stokes once again refused to accept defeat in the face of adversity and played a stunning, magnificent, jaw dropping second innings – scoring 135 not out which included 11 fours and 8 sixes. Number eleven Jack Leach managed to survive 17 gut wrenching deliveries to allow Stokes to win the game for his country, with Stokes smashing Pat Cummins for four after a scampered single, the only run Leach contributed in a final wicket stand of 76, had levelled the scores.

The game started in a fairly straightforward fashion. With some rain interrupting the first days play, England, winning a good toss with the conditions and a greenish Headingley pitch, and retaining the side that had finished strongly in the 2nd Test, skittled Australia out for just 179. Jofra Archer tearing the Aussies apart after David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne shared a 111 partnership, taking 6 wickets in a devastating spell that showed just why world cricket is so excited by the young fast bowler.

With conditions improving and the good weather returning to Leeds, England were expected to be able to build a nice first innings lead. But their innings was calamitous at best – disgraceful and embarrassing at worst. Only Joe Denly managed to get into double figures as England were routed for just 67 runs.

Australia forged ahead in their second innings – whilst their final total of 246 all out wasn’t the greatest, the lead established meant that England would need to produce their successful biggest run chase of all time to win the game – an Australia victory would mean they would retain the Ashes, being 2-0 up with two to play. It was once again Marnus Labuschagne (above), filling in for Steve Smith, who frustrated England the most, scoring 80 before, vitally, being run out whilst seemingly taking the game away from the host nation. Ben Stokes had already served notice he was fighting, bowling a stamina sapping 15 over spell at the end of day 2, taking two crucial wickets to keep England’s head just above water – with Jofra Archer off the field for treatment.

England’s second innings started four overs before lunch on Day 3. With both sets of bowlers having dominated the game, even with the pitch looking tamer and the weather now very batting friendly, and on the back of such a dismal first innings, the chances of a successful England run chase looked minimal at best. Openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy managed to survive until lunch, but didn’t last long after. Both were removed with the score on just 15 – but Joe Denly and skipper Joe Root put on a nice 126 run partnership which just kept England alive. Denly would complete his first 2019 Ashes half century but fell with his total on 50, bringing Stokes to the crease to join Root. By the close of play on Day 3, Stokes had scored just 2 runs off over 60 deliveries, with Root unbeaten on 75, and looking the main chance of an unlikely win.

Day 4 started with England needing 203 runs with 7 wickets remaining. Two full days left meant that time was not a factor – and the total suddenly didn’t seem insurmountable – the game seemed in the balance, especially with Root looking in such good nick. But a new ball was just 8 overs away….and when Root was dismissed after adding just 2 to his total from overnight, Australia looked clear favourites to win, with Stokes still struggling to find any rhyme or rhythm to his innings – though he looked super determined not to be dismissed.

Jonny Bairstow arrived at the crease and put some spark into the run chase – igniting the bat of Stokes in the process. The put on 86 runs in very quick time before Bairstow was caught at slip just after lunch. Buttler (again) and Woakes failed, whilst a few lusty blows from Jofra Archer brought some cheers from the enthusiastic Headingley crowd, but he fell for 15 and Stuart Broad only lasted 2 balls.

Stokes had been left apparently high and dry, despite advancing to a half century and looking largely untroubled. With Jack Leach striding to the crease and at last chance saloon, Stokes batted with stunning ferocity in what still seemed a vain attempt. But the runs started to come – and the total started to diminish.

The last hour of the test virtually defied belief. Stokes farmed the bowling with amazing control and poise, scoring heavily whomever was bowling at him, then scampering a single from ball five, allowing Leach to survive a ball, before doing it all again. Boundaries flowed, sixes were hit as the crowd started to watch history in the making. This was no innings of reckless abandon – it was a master craftsman at work, revelling in the pressure, atmosphere and situation that just a few months ago he had overcome at Lords in the World Cup Final. Here, the Ashes were on the line, against bitter rivals Australia.

Stokes was not phased in the slightest.

60, 50, 40, 30, 20….the total came down and every ball that was delivered that didn’t result in an England wicket was cheered ever more vociferously. Stokes assault continued as the total went into single figures. It couldn’t happen…could it?

Then came three key moments. First, the Australians reviewed, somewhat desperately, an LBW decision (given not out) against Leach that was clearly not out. The decision was upheld, and the Australians lost their final review. A few balls later and a mix up left Leach well out of his ground. All Nathan Lyon had to do was collect the incoming throw, whip off the bails and the game was over…but he fumbled the throw and by the time he recovered the ball, Leach had scampered home. Then, next ball, Lyon’s delivery rapped a sweeping Stokes on the pads…the appeal went up – but was given not out. Australia couldn’t review this – and replays showed Stokes was pretty plumb. The last two incidents happening with England needing just 2 runs to win.

Leach survived two Pat Cummins deliveries before nudging a crucial run….and the next ball, Stokes smacked Cummins to the boundary, roaring in defiance as he won the game for England.

This was pure theatre. The contribution of Jack Leach cannot be understated….but this was all about Ben Stokes. So often he has delivered for England – but this was something else. Test match cricket has been much maligned recently and the one day version of the game given more attention to ‘spice’ things up – but the truest form of the game delivered here in stunning fashion – and will be remembered for time immemorial.

When the dust has settled though, and in advance of the 4th test just 10 days away, England will know they have issues. Their batting remains fragile; their first innings a stark reminder of just how bad it can be. Jason Roy looks badly out of touch, as does Jos Buttler. Burns has not showed much since the 1st test and Denly again looks limited. Take Root and Stokes out of the equation and there doesn’t feel much there. The bowling attack remains solid, though Chris Woakes was largely ineffective and the fitness/health of Archer will be a concern also.

Australia, for their part, will wonder just whether Lady Luck and fate are against them. They somehow contrived to lose a game they should have won, despite their own relative failure with the bat. Then failing to finish England off – some poor in game decisions with field placements and use of the reviews – skipper Tim Paine will shoulder a lot of the burden of this loss. Yes, the umpiring decision not to give out Stokes at the death was a poor one – but that one decision alone cannot take away the fact that Australia should have won this game long before it happened.

But – nothing should take away from the feat and performance of Ben Stokes. He will go down in Ashes immortality, alongside the names such as Bradman, Botham and Flintoff. This was his game. Another one of *those* sporting moments that anyone who witnessed it will never forget.

ASHES 3RD TEST MATCH SUMMARY

Australia 1st Innings : 179 (Labuschagne 74, Warner 61)

England Bowling : Archer 6/45, Broad 2/32

England 1st Innings : 67

Australia Bowling : Hazelwood 5/30, Cummins 3/23

Australia 2nd Innings : 246 (Labuschagne 80, Wade 33)

England Bowling : Stokes 3/56, Archer 2/40, Broad 2/52

England 2nd Innings : 362/9 (Stokes 135no, Root 77, Denly 50, Leach 1no)

Australia Bowling : Hazelwood 4/85, Lyon 2/114

Result : ENGLAND WIN BY 1 WICKET
Man of the Match : Ben Stokes (England)
Venue : Headingley, Leeds, England
Date : Thursday August 22 – Monday August 26
UPDATED SERIES SCORE : England 1 – 1 Australia