The Ashes' alive: Ben Stokes' ton for the ages and an atmosphere like no other at Headingley
That hunger, that belief, that overt statement: Yes, I am here and come what may, I'll take England to a win. Stop me, if you can. Arise Sir Ben Stokes!
There was a split second when Ben Stokes punched Pat Cummins through covers for a boundary to take England to an unbelievable Ashes victory, when Stokes realised before anyone in the crowd what he had done. The roar from Stokes - a panoramic shot, now etched in the memory of thousands who were witness to that epic knock. A fraction of a second later, the entire Headingley erupted, the English dressing room, the Barmy Army, the Western Terrace, all in unison as if to make each other believe what they had just been a part of.
Australia 179 (David Warner 61, Marnus Labuschagne 74; Jofra Archer 6-45) and 246 (Marnus Labuschagne 80; Ben Stokes 3-56)
England 67 (Josh Hazlewood 5-30) and 362-9 (Joe Root 77, Joe Denly 50, Ben Stokes 135*; Josh Hazlewood 4-85)
Result – England won by 1 wicket
InPlay – Day Four - Follow the day's play as it unfolded
"When there was nothing to cheer about they were cheering. I hope the fans understand how much that influences us in terms of where we are in the game. It gives you that extra drive and adrenaline to really push you through. Being tired at the end, the noise and the atmosphere gives you an extra level of adrenaline. You almost want to do it for them, the fact they've been here through thick and thin throughout all the years," an elated Stokes said after the win.
In the realm of sanity, England should have never won the Test, it should have never reached to that. It was only on day 1 that there was a firm belief among the English fans that the Ashes will be alive after Australia were bowled out for 179, that too after battling adverse conditions.
The next day England returned the favour courteously and were skittled out for 67. Yes, 67! You don't win Test matches getting bowled out for 67 and that too when the opposition has three premium pace bowlers in James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
England were then set a highly improbable target of 359 which they had never chased down before. There were constant references to history and how less, if at all, any chance England had of making it happen.
The openers fell early and it looked inevitable that England would lose. Against the run of play, Joe Denly and Joe Root grinded out half-centuries to lead the team to the close of play on day 3. There was a semblance of belief then, but the odds were heavily stacked in the favour of Australia.
On the morning of day 4 when Root was caught at first slip off Lyon, England's chances of keeping the Ashes alive all but went for a toss. Jos Buttler, the only other charismatic personality in the English team which comes somewhere close to Stokes, could have paired up with the all-rounder but he too was part of a mix up with Stokes in the middle.
Woakes departed soon as well. Archer then tried to be adventurous and ended up giving his wicket away. Broad fell to a yorker and England were down to 286-9. Then, it was only about how soon the match will get over and not about which team will win.
But then something hit Headingley, which left each one startled. Stokes hit one boundary, then he hit another, then another and soon the deficit, which seemed all so improbable at one point, came down to single digits.
"In terms of where we were at in the Ashes series, I'm obviously over the moon that we've managed to stay in the series. We knew if we lost this game then the Ashes were gone. To be sat here, especially after getting bowled out for 67, to still be in with a chance of getting the urn back is an amazing feeling.
"Walking off there at the end was a time to take everything in and realise what we've just done as a team, not as an individual. Bouncing back from getting bowled out for 67 to then chase down 359 was brilliant," Stokes chirped.
It seems as if England were destined to win, for Australia, who generally don't give the opposition an inch, made huge errors under pressure. The new ball was wasted by their pacers, the way they bowled to Stokes was an in between length, not attacking the stumps enough, not short enough to trouble him. It was clear that in the Stokes storm, they too had lost the plot and were reduced to mere spectators.
The dropped catch by Marnus Labuschagne, the throw at the wrong end from Marcus Harris, the fumble from Nathan Lyon, the terrible DRS call from Tim Paine, the decision from Joel Wilson all conspired to take England to a historic win and keep the Ashes alive.
And, at the centre of it all was one man, Benjamin Andrew Stokes, who has lifted up the team time and again in recent years. If the World Cup win was not enough, he has shouldered the expectations of all of England and ensured that Root & Co move to Manchester with the chance of having a shot at that coveted urn.
©Cricket World 2019