An extraordinary century by England all-rounder Ben Stokes last night breathed life back into this Ashes as the hosts levelled the series 1-1. The article is written by The Roar’s Ronan O’Connell.
In an exhilarating finish, Australia had two golden chances to win the Test, with Nathan Lyon first fumbling an easy runout and then next ball unable to review a plumb lbw because the tourists had already wasted their DRS calls.
With 135* Stokes produced one of the all-time great Ashes performances, saving England from what had looked like certain defeat just 45 minutes earlier.
Australia, at that stage, seemed on course to take a 2-0 lead and retain the Ashes. Now the series remains up for grabs as the teams move into the fourth Test, where both sides are expected to regain a star player – Australia their best batsman Steve Smith and England their number one bowler James Anderson.
Australia had started the day as heavy favourites and justified that status when Joe Root was out to a remarkable slips catch from David Warner off the bowling of Nathan Lyon inside the first 30 minutes.
England had been suffocated by wonderfully disciplined bowling by Australia and looked at danger of collapsing. Instead Stokes glued himself to the crease and Jonny Bairstow borrowed strokes from his white-ball repertoire.
Bairstow’s aggression woke Stokes from his slumber and the pair set about changing the narrative. The former was flaying full deliveries, and Stokes began to sweat on anything short of a length. In the space of 12 overs they piled on not just 68 runs but a ton of pressure on the Australian bowlers and captain Tim Paine.
At certain stages of a chase there is a tipping point where one side shifts from being under pressure to applying pressure, from being the hunted to the hunter. This was such a juncture.
Yet instead of wilting under this scrutiny, the Australian bowlers rallied. From the following 56 deliveries they conceded just 14 runs, managing to reel in the talented English pair. That miserly spell almost paid dividends when Stokes then edged Lyon just past the outstretched hand of David Warner at first slip.
Australia barely had time to curse their luck as, from the very next ball, Bairstow tried to cut Josh Hazlewood and edged to second slip.
The tourists had been rewarded for holding their nerve in the face of some enterprising strokeplay. Minutes after, Stokes and Jos Buttler handed a present to Australia when they got involved in a mix-up resulting in the run out of the new batsman.
Stokes, by this point, was batting a dream. He would have felt confident Chris Woakes would offer him support given the bowling all-rounder’s tight technique and fine batting record in England. But Woakes soon offered up his wicket, scooping a drive to short extra cover to be out for one.
That brought to the crease another very capable lower-order batsman in Jofra Archer. He took his time to get set, moving to 7 from 28 balls, and then went after Lyon. Two balls in a row he heaved the off-spinner through mid-wicket only to pick out deep square leg with a third attempted slog in the same over.
It was a needless shot from Archer and two balls later Stuart Broad was lbw to Pattinson, seemingly ending England’s resistance. With one wicket in hand, they needed 73 to win. Even with Stokes on 61* that seemed too difficult a task.
So Stokes decided to all but take his partner Leach out of the equation. He farmed the strike and launched a jaw-dropping assault on the same Australian attack that had rolled his side for 67 in the first innings.
Leach scored just a solitary run from 17 balls, while Stokes thrashed 74 from 45 balls in this partnership to give England an out-of-this-world victory.
Ladies and gentleman, we have a classic Ashes series in the making.
About the writer – Ronan has been a reporter for 15 years and now travels the world as a photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 70 magazines and newspapers across the US, Europe, Asia, Middle East, Canada and Australia. He contributes to the likes of CNN, BBC, The San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star, The Independent (UK), The Guardian, Irish Examiner, Australian Financial Review, South China Morning Post, Singapore Straits Times and many magazines. Before becoming a freelance photojournalist he spent nine years working at daily newspapers in WA where he variously was a chief crime reporter, political writer, health reporter, features writer and sports reporter.