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Ben freakin’ Stokes Show

England won the third Ashes test, courtesy Ben Stokes playing an impossible innings. Just as he dragged England through the super over against New Zealand, Stokes played one of the most incredible Test innings by an Englishman to level the series at 1-1. Despite being dismantled for 67 in their first innings, England won by 1 wicket to set the Ashes on fire. The last two Tests promise to be absolute crackers. This one, though, is forever

What did the scorecard look like?

Australia 179 (Labuschagne 74, Archer 6-45) & 246 (Labuschagne 80)
England 67 (Hazlewood 5-30) & 362-9 (Stokes 135*, Root 77, Hazlewood 4-85)
England won by one wicket.*

Headingley 1981 was a foregone conclusion compared with this. So, too, the World Cup final in July, as Ian Botham’s incredible exploits of 38 years ago have been matched, maybe surpassed. However, on a day like this who cares about rankings anyway? Ben Stokes produced the innings of a lifetime to snatch a one-wicket victory, which keeps the Ashes alive and the game alive, while threatening to cause multiple heart failures among those lucky enough to witness this contest.
Australia had two chances to snatch a famous win of their own in the 125th over of an epic innings, but they instead go down as footnotes in Stokes' story. With England still one run behind, Nathan Lyon dropped a throw from Pat Cummins at the bowler's end when a clean take would have allowed him to easily run out the over-exuberant Leach with ease.

Stokes aimed a big slog-sweep at the very next delivery, missing but given not out by umpire Joel Wilson. Replays showed he was out but Australia had already spent their last review in the previous over on a hopeless shout against Leach. Stokes then did the needful, completing the impossible innings.

But cricketing history is always created off near misses and of “what could have been” moments.
“We said at the start of the day we had to just keep believing while we had two players out there. We have witnessed some incredible things this summer and I would not have expected to see something else so similar after the World Cup. I cannot put into word what Ben has done out there. He's shown you should never give up while you're still in the game,” said Joe Root after the match.

Stokes hit eight sixes and 11 fours as he instantly laid claim to one of the greatest innings of all time, while Jack Leach's solitary run was the one that levelled the scores. The last half-hour of play could, and probably will fill books given time, but while a sold-out crowd allowed themselves to be whipped into a frenzy by the sheer implausibility of what they were witnessing, Stokes kept a relentless focus at the eye of the storm.

Why did the game go down as it did?

Day 4 began full of possibility, then flipped and flopped and flipped again on the balance of probability and ended with an air of impossibility as England kept the Ashes alive, thanks to Stokes' match-winning century. His unbeaten 135 handed England the most unlikely of victories, by one wicket, in the third Test at Headingley, allowing them to level the series at 1-1.
In one of the most thrilling finishes imaginable - well, since England's World Cup triumph last month with, you guessed it, Stokes, front and centre - he and Jack Leach stood up against the odds and steered their side to their highest successful run chase in Tests, two days after they had been humbled for 67 in their first innings and were then set 359 to win.

Numerous times Australia threatened to take the final wicket they needed for a victory that had seemed inevitable, only to fluff their lines repeatedly. Stokes was dropped on 116 when he sent a top edge off Pat Cummins towards third man, where Marcus Harris got his hands to it but could not hold on. Australia then wasted a review - which would come back to haunt them - when Cummins rapped Leach on the pad and the DRS confirmed the ball had pitched well outside leg.

When Stokes just cleared the man on the rope for a six off Nathan Lyon, the crowd went wild and England needed just two more to win. Two balls later, Leach should have been run out after going for a non-existent single, but Lyon fumbled as he tried to gather the throw from backward point. Stokes should have been out lbw attempting to slog-sweep the very next ball, which was pitching on middle and leg and shown by Hawk-Eye to be hitting the stumps, but with no reviews left, Australia could do nothing. To be fair to Australia, they were at the receiving end of some really poor umpiring.
Stokes admitted there were moments when he was not part of the action that he couldn't watch. Leach levelled the scores with a single off Cummins and when Stokes brought up the win on the next ball, flaying Cummins through the covers to the boundary, he let out an almighty roar, arms outstretched as Leach ran to embrace the saviour of England.

When was the match defined?

From 156-3 overnight, England lost Joe Root with only two added to his overnight 75, only for Jonny Bairstow to arrive and take the fight to Australia. As of Saturday evening, Stokes was almost shotless - he scored only three off his first 73 balls and was dropped by David Warner at slip off Lyon on 34 - but was swept along with Bairstow in a fifth-wicket stand of 86.
However, Bairstow was caught at second slip just after lunch, Jos Buttler was run out in a mix-up with Stokes, Jofra Archer heaved into the hands of deep mid-wicket and Stuart Broad was trapped lbw. The game looked gone. That was to discount Stokes, who switched from careful defence to clean striking, his stroke play made all the more brilliant by the knowledge that one mistake would have ended the match.

There are jaw-dropping performances in sport and then there is the one that Ben Stokes served up at Headingley on Sunday. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Lose and Australia would retain the urn. But Stokes, already England’s man of the summer after the World Cup final heroics that saw him dubbed a “superhuman” by Eoin Morgan, donned the red cape once more with an astonishing blitz.
At the other end Leach stoutly survived the one or two deliveries he was trusted to defend at the end of each over - his contribution to the partnership of 76 was one not out from 17 balls. Stokes, though, was in his sublime one-day mode - his last 84 runs came from 67 balls. He lofted Lyon down the ground and then into the crowd with an outrageous reverse-sweep.

He heaved the pace bowlers into the leg side, but also picked gaps in the deep-set field and ran hard. There was the drama of Harris' dropped catch at third man - almost identical to Simon Jones at Edgbaston in 2005 - Lyon's fumble when Leach was well short of his ground and the leg-before decision that should have accounted for Stokes when there was only two to win. However, Stokes was not to be denied and one of the most memorable moments in English Cricket history was served up in the baking sunshine.
The secret of Stokes’ energy? Asked about the fuel for his performances, Stokes replied: “My wife and kids arrived at 10pm [on day two] and walked into me eating pasta in my boxer shorts. Last night I think had a knock-off Nando’s and two bars of Yorkie biscuit and raisin. And a couple of coffees this morning.”
Expect many more international batsmen to try this combination of pasta, chocolates, biscuit and coffee before any crunch innings.

Where does Stokes’ innings take our memory to?

For Ian Botham in 1981 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005, add Ben Stokes 2019.
However, whereas it is exploits against the oldest enemies for which Botham and Flintoff will always be remembered, this was Stokes' encore to his first career-defining performance. Some people only get one chance to play the innings of a lifetime. Stokes has done it twice in six weeks. The multiple journeys to the glorious afternoon at a sun-baked Headingley are many and varied.
Never has the belief in a sporting dream so improbable been rewarded with such an astonishing victory. For Stokes, there is the journey from the piece of tarmac outside a Bristol nightclub to now, from the moment that could have cost him his England career to the moments for which he will forever be etched into the nation's sporting consciousness. Just over a year ago, Stokes was returning to England team after being cleared of affray. When he walked out to bat at Trent Bridge, having taken the place of Sam Curran, there were boos from some sections of the crowd.

Leach's near run out was an impression of Monty Panesar leaping for his ground as he tried to save the Test against New Zealand in Auckland in 2013. Seeing Leach face up to Cummins brought back memories of James Anderson trying to repel Sri Lanka on the same ground in 2014, falling two balls short, and then crying in the post-match presentation. Moreover, there was an injustice, Stokes not given lbw to Lyon with only two to win. However, whereas we felt sympathy for New Zealand and their World Cup misery, this was Australia and it was OK for them to be on the wrong end of a raw one.

The hope is that this is not a one-hit wonder, but part of a seminal Ashes album, one which delivers more great tracks at Old Trafford and The Oval. Steve Smith and James Anderson will return, but the inescapable feeling is that the summer belongs to Stokes. In 1981, after Botham at Headingley, Australia did not win another match. Ditto for 2005 after Flintoff and Edgbaston. Even if Stokes fails to fire again in this series, it may be that the impact of what he has done here has reversed the momentum for good.
Surely, there is more to come. England all-rounders love the Ashes.

Who stood out?

Ben freakin’ Stokes, Ben freakin’ Stokes.

The World Cup final was one of the most incredible games of cricket ever played, and for the scale of its drama, tension and heart-stopping finish to be matched in the same summer is barely believable. At the centre of both was Stokes, who added to his growing legend by single-handedly maintaining England's hopes of regaining the urn.
Not only that, but he added yet another classic memory to a ground steeped in Ashes history by matching the exploits of Sir Ian Botham in 1981. An expectant Headingley was full before play began and, even though at one stage England lost five wickets for 41 runs, as long as there was Stokes, there was hope. The noise gradually cranked up with every run added in the last-wicket partnership, the Western Terrace growing in celebration with each ball that Stokes dispatched into the crowd.
Gooch sets up history
When Stokes summoned the energy to drag himself from the field, he paused and soaked up the adulation, once again as England's magnificent match-winner. Two of the hitherto finest innings for England were played at Headingley - Graham Gooch’s 154 against West Indies in 1991 and Ian Botham’s 149 - but neither faced such a fourth-innings crisis as Stokes did, with England 1-0 down in the Ashes and unable to regain the urn if they lost, and only Jack Leach to help him score the last 73 runs to win.
Idle to compare this climax with that of the World Cup final: that was white ball and this was red. Suffice they were both unique moments in a sport, which seems ever more capable of epic finishes. The fourth Test begins at Old Trafford on Wednesday, and Stokes is already the equal of Botham in 1981, or Andrew Flintoff in 2005, and perhaps with more to come.

Don’t forget the side hero

There were 73 runs to win, and a noisy Headingley had just been deafened by the sound of impending Australian glory. As Jack Leach, England’s bespectacled No 11, who looks more like an accountant in your office than a regular cricketer, walked to the middle, all that seemed unresolved were the details of exactly how Australia would retain the urn.

Throughout his professional career, Leach has not been much of a batsman. He has a first-class average of 12. For Somerset this season, he averages 4.5 from 13 innings. He had been selected for England for many good reasons; run-production was not one of them.

So the situation that Leach was thrust into while he kept Ben Stokes company was not really analogous to anything that sportsmen in other games go through. In other sports, however great the pressure they are under, athletes are at least being tested on the skills that have got them to such an elevated position.
This was completely different. Leach is England’s No 11. And while he has been selected because he is England’s best Test spinner, thousands of cricketers up and down the land – not just professionals but also good club players – would consider themselves better batsmen.
England v Ireland: Jack Leach makes 92 
A month ago, Leach belied his first-class record to make 92 in a Test against Ireland, almost scoring the first ever century by an English nightwatchman. If the opposition were far more modest than England would face in the Ashes, Leach’s innings was crucial in England winning in spite of being bundled out for 85 in the first innings.

That innings benefited from a healthy dollop of luck – Leach played and missed an inordinate amount – but was also vindication of his commitment to self-improvement in the nets. Leach has needed bravery, too – since he suffered concussion being hit on the side of the head by Morne Morkel in a County Championship game last year, bowlers have often targeted him with the short ball. After 19 first-class innings without reaching 10, the Ireland innings, Leach said afterwards, showed what could be achieved by breaking his innings down into small chunks.

At Headingley, Leach did not even have to think about how to score runs: that was not his job. Instead, he acted as the enabler for Stokes’s brilliance, a truth that Stokes recognised by being unable to watch his batting partner face deliveries. Every ball that Leach survived was cheered even more boisterously than the last.
Leach scored only one run, but what a run it was. For this was the moment that England tied the scores – meaning that, whatever happened, the Ashes would remain alive. All that remained was for Stokes to complete the miracle, triggering Leach’s embrace. “The best kiss I’ve ever had,” Stokes joked.

How can Australia bounce back from this?

The only worse cricketing humiliation than being bowled out for 67 must be losing to a team that you bowled out for 67. While all of England looked around in disbelief after that Ben Stokes heist at Headingley, the Australian Test team would have been staring blankly at the dressing-room walls, trying to make some sense of how exactly that one got away.

Three teams previously have been rolled for such a low score and won: all of those cases were in the 1800s, when medicinal leeches or a sacrifice to the Sun God probably tended to a hard day’s bowling. Then there was this, the summer of 2019, which makes sense given the darkly absurd timeline that our world appears to have lurched down.

The Ashes were there for the taking, or at least for the retaining. An Australian lead of 2-0 could not be topped with two Tests to go. Instead it is locked up at 1-1. Australia will have to hold England at bay twice to hold on to the trophy, or find another win to claim a series in this country for the first time since 2001. That task will begin in Manchester with home-town boy Jimmy Anderson likely to return. The degree of difficulty has grown vastly more acute.

Australia even avoided the one thing that could have brought them undone, which was complacency of the sort reflected in the paragraph above. Nobody was phoning it in. Throughout the third afternoon Australia’s trio of quicks were excellent, knocking over England’s openers cheaply, then showing unwavering discipline through a long stand between the two Joes Root and Denly.

Australia’s players may not be cursing and berating themselves, because to some degree you have to be philosophical when a truly freak performance blows you away. However, winning positions in Tests do not come around easily, as we saw when England talked about momentum after Lord’s only to propel themselves into a wall on the second day at Leeds.

The bowlers had done everything right. The equation was a bit close to be comfortable, but 74 for the last wicket was the kind of absurd finish that Test cricket had already seen from Sri Lanka in South Africa earlier this year. It was not about to repeat.
Except it did, and Australia will be at a loss. One could focus too much on specific moments late in the game: the finger tipped near-catches from David Warner and Marcus Harris, the DRS reviews burned up and decisions not given, the run-out botched. The broader issues started earlier.

Partly with the bat, not doing enough in the second innings. So many batsmen offered 20s or 30s, while the whole team rode Marnus Labuschagne’s luck across four chances in his 80. After skittling England, the visitors should have been at least 400 ahead and closed the door completely.

Partly in the field, with the defensive eight-on-the-fence approach for Stokes as soon as his last partner came to the crease. The boundary riders put pressure on Stokes to get his sixes right, but removed any pressure on him from around the bat. He was free to line up his big hits as and when he chose. Needing 74 to win, there was plenty of room to keep backing the bowlers with conventional fields to take one more wicket, as they had already taken nine. And partly in those frenetic final overs, where perhaps bowlers were taken aback by the assault, unable to comfortably switch to a one-day mind-set in a Test match with such high stakes.

Stokes has picked them up and set them on their feet, and Steve Smith will return in Manchester to potentially do the same for his team. Being philosophical is probably Australia’s best bet. One player’s day out does not diminish what they did right, but it could rattle them enough that they start to do it wrong. After being taken apart, it is up to Australia to keep themselves together.

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