England 67 (Hazlewood 5-30) and 362 for 9 (Stokes 135*, Root 77, Denly 50) beat Australia 179 (Labuschagne 74, Warner 61, Archer 6-45) and 246 (Labuschagne 80, Stokes 3-56) beat by one wicket
A day that began full of possibility flipped and flopped and flipped again on the balance of probablility and ended with an air of impossibility as England kept the Ashes alive, thanks to a match-winning century to Ben Stokes.
Stokes’ 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.
The hosts had dared to dream when they resumed on a hot summer’s day at 156 for 3 with Joe Root unbeaten on 75 and Stokes locked and loaded having faced 50 balls for his 2 not out.
Cue the possibility. These two batsmen at the crease – Root with a point to ram home after going some way to answering critics of his batting, captaincy and combination of both, and Stokes with a fifty and a Man-of-the-Match century to his name in the previous two Tests – were fully capable of bringing England within reach of the 203 runs needed to clinch victory.
Cue the probability. Australia’s attack, while frustrated on the third afternoon, had kept the pressure on and, with the second new ball due after eight overs on day four, England faced a big task just to navigate the morning, let alone chase down the target. That became even more unlikely when Root fell, having added just two runs, to a brilliant slips catch from David Warner – his sixth of the match – off the bowling of Nathan Lyon in the sixth over of the day.
Stokes and Jonny Bairstow swung the probability back in England’s favour with a defiant, and threatening, 86-run partnership. Their union was broken when Bairstow, on 36, attempted to cut Josh Hazlewood but guided the ball to Marnus Labuschagne at second slip.
Cue the impossibility. Stokes’ knock, which included 11 fours and eight sixes, led England to their highest successful run chase in Test history after they had been bowled out for 67 in their first innings. He farmed the strike expertly and England No. 10 Jack Leach deserved huge plaudits for holding his nerve in a 76-run partnership with Stokes off 62 balls, to which Leach contributed 1 off 17.
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 admitted there were moments when he wasn’t part of the action that he couldn’t watch. Leach levelled the scores with a single off Pat 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 him like the saviour he was.