38 years ago at Headingley, Ian Botham’s extraordinary innings saw the most dramatic comeback in the history of test cricket. This past weekend, Ben Stokes’ incredible last wicket stand on the same ground may have bettered that fabled feat. As a result, England won to keep their 2019 Ashes series alive.
Archer and Hazelwood star in first innings
When England and Australia pitched up in Leeds on Thursday, the inevitable talk was around England’s Jofra Archer and the absence of Australia’s Steve Smith. Australia batted first and it was Archer who again grabbed the headlines with the early wicket of Marcus Harris. Prior, David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne appeared to be guiding Australia to a strong first inning score, despite tricky batting conditions. However, Archer removed Warner for 61 and instigated an Australia collapse from 136-2 to 179 all out. He recorded figures of 6-45 in just his second test match.
On day two, the question was whether Australia could stay in the game, as England batted in what appeared to be improving conditions. Jason Roy yet again fell early, and when Josh Hazelwood’s stunning delivery removed England captain Joe Root, Australia were on top. England’s batting then completely collapsed to 67 all out. Hazelwood recorded 5-30, but much of the damage was self-inflicted.
With an unexpected first innings lead of 112, Australia only needed to post a respectable total to seemingly take the game away from England. They started poorly when Stuart Broad removed David Warner, but progressed to 97-3 before Stokes took center stage. However, Labuschagne provided a gutsy 80 to anchor Australia’s innings and set England an improbable 359 to win.
To win, England needed to become the first team in 131 years to score less than 68 in a first innings and go on to win the test match. Hazelwood and Pat Cummins again removed England’s openers to reduce the hosts to 20-2. With defeat looking inevitable, Root and Joe Denly rebuilt England’s innings with a century stand. Hazelwood removed Denly for 50, and then Stokes joined Root at the crease and saw England end day three on 156-3; still 203 runs short.
The drama on day four began in earnest with Root finally out for 77. However, Australia’s bowlers were struggling to find the right line. Stokes pressed on with Jonny Bairstow, and England had reduced the arrears to 121. Australia’s bowlers regrouped for the second session, as Hazelwood quickly got rid of Bairstow. England wobbled with Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes following in quick succession. Archer and Broad departed with little to show, leaving England 73 runs short with just one wicket in hand.
Epic Last Wicket Stand
Jack Leach joined Stokes at the crease, but it seemed only a matter of time before Australia won. Stokes protected Leach from the strike and smacked Hazelwood for 6 to reduce the target to 49 runs. In the 122nd, Stokes made his move and smashed 19 runs off Hazelwood to bring the deficit down to 18. With Cummins in the attack, Harris missed a chance to catch Stokes.
For Australia, Tim Paine called a desperate review, burning their final review. From there, Nathan Lyon fumbled a simple throw from Cummins, and England survived as a result. Lyon spun the next ball perfectly to Stokes, but the umpire turned down the lbw appeal. Leach then faced 6 balls from Cummins and nicked his first run to bring the scores level.
A sweetly timed shot from Ben Stokes, who knew the moment the ball left his bat, levelled the series for England at 1-1. The emotion exuding from Stokes was a perfect reflection of the guts he put into the innings to bring England back from the dead to win.
To Old Trafford
The series will take a brief break before the fourth test, with both sides having plenty to ponder. For Australia, picking up morale after such a shattering loss will be tough. For so much of this series, Paine has been calm, but he and some of his players buckled. They will be boosted by the return of Smith, who now has Labuschagne to help him build formidable totals.
For England, their first innings was shocking, and Stokes’ heroics can’t continually dig them out of positions like 20-3. It seems inevitable England will ditch the experiment with Jason Roy as an opening batsman. England could switch Roy down the order and promote Denly to open, but Denly found form at #4. Do they drop Roy in favor of a specialist opener such as Dom Sibley or Zak Crawley? We will find out soon enough, as the Ashes rolls on.
Photo Credit: Sky