Cricket fans hailed the ‘greatest ever innings by an Englishman’ today after Ben Stokes inspired England to a stunning comeback victory over Australia to level the the Ashes series at 1-1.
Just weeks after winning the World Cup in scenes of near-bedlam, England wrote another thrilling chapter in their cricketing history on Sunday as they chased down their highest ever total to win a Test match, scoring 362-9 to clinch the game by one wicket.
Stokes was the hero once again, pummelling Australia’s bowlers for 135 not out in a nerve-shredding last-wicket partnership with spin bowler Jack Leach, prompting calls for a knighthood from delighted fans.
England legend Sir Alastair Cook called it England’s greatest ever batting feat, while even his Australian opponents acknowledged that Stokes had played an ‘unbelievable innings’.
An exhausted Stokes paid tribute to team-mate Leach’s ‘serious b****cks’ after they put on 76 for the last wicket.
The rousing comeback win will also go down as one of England’s greatest of all time, evoking memories of Sir Ian Botham’s legendary Ashes exploits on the same ground in 1981.
The match in Leeds swung one way then the other, as England dominated on Thursday, were humiliated on Friday, fought back on Saturday and raised hopes of a comeback win this morning – but all seemed lost when an all-too-familiar batting collapse left Australia on the brink of victory after lunch.
England knew their hopes of winning the Ashes would be over if one more wicket fell, reducing the two remaining matches to dead rubbers. But Stokes had other ideas, flaying Australia’s bowlers around Headingley to the delight of a raucous fourth-day crowd, striking the winning runs shortly after 4pm and letting out a roar in celebration.
Victory: Ben Stokes roars in celebration after hitting the winning runs at Leeds today, leading England to an extraordinary comeback victory over Australia to level the Ashes series at 1-1
Bedlam: England fans can barely believe their eyes after watching Ben Stokes lead his team to one of their greatest ever Ashes victories, scoring 135 not out and sharing a 76 stand for the final wicket with Jack Leach
Raucous crowd: Spectators at Headingley enjoy the thrilling final day of the third Ashes test where England chased down 359, their highest successful run-chase of all time, to level the series
England fans watching the Ashes Test on the sidelines of a long-forgotten domestic game in Southampton celebrate after Ben Stokes hit the winning runs against Australia
The England all-rounder roars in delight after hitting the winning runs with Jack Leach coming to embrace his partner, while the Australians look desolate after throwing away what appeared to be an unbeatable position
(L to R): England team-mates Joe Root, Jofra Archer, Stokes and Stuart Broad celebrate the unlikeliest of victories
Exhausted: Ben Stokes in the dressing room after guiding England to one of their greatest ever Test match victories today
The fourth Test begins in Manchester on Wednesday, September 4, with the series level at 1-1 after three matches. If the series is a draw, Australia will keep the Ashes as they are the current holders.
Stokes’s incredible innings led to calls for him to win the Sports Personality of the Year award and even a knighthood from the Queen.
Former England batsman Sir Alastair Cook, England’s most prolific run-scorer of all time, said Stokes’s knock was the ‘greatest ever innings by an Englishman’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is at the G7 summit in France, called it the ‘most extraordinary end of a Test match’ and paid tribute to the ‘incredible batting of Ben Stokes’.
Stokes’s triumphs this summer are a remarkable turnaround for the 28-year-old all-rounder, a year after he was on trial for affray over a brawl outside a Bristol nightclub. He was found not guilty.
The man himself said: ‘It’s one I’ll never forget. I’ve got to try and take it all in. I’m not sure it’ll ever happen again. It’s one of the two best feelings I’ve ever felt on a cricket pitch.
‘Just never give up. It’s not over until it’s over. When (Jack) Leachy came in it was pretty clear what had to be done.’
‘We had to win this game to stay in the Ashes and we managed to do it. We’ve got to move on now. We’ve managed to keep our hopes alive of doing the double and we can take a lot of momentum.’
Dejection: Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne looks disconsolate after his side were dramatically beaten by England on Sunday
England fans delight in David Warner’s misfortune as the Australia fielder misses the chance to catch Ben Stokes by the boundary rope late in the day at Headingley
Stokes fist-bumps team-mate Leach after reaching his century with one of the many sublime shots he played in his innings
After being mobbed by his team-mates, Stokes was given a standing ovation as he walked off the hallowed turf in Yorkshire
England legend Botham led the tributes to Stokes after the game, saying: ‘It takes a remarkable man and I said this morning that someone needed to front up and be strong.
‘I’ve banged the Ben Stokes drum for a long time now and I know when other players see him they think there is something special about him.’
‘He is very, very valuable to cricket – not just England, he will sell the game worldwide. He should enjoy every moment. It was a really remarkable performance.’
In the words of former Australian bowler Jason Gillespie, it was ‘one of the best knocks of all time in Test cricket’, while current captain Tim Paine admitted Stokes was ‘too good for us’.
Former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne said: ‘Stokes is one of those guys who you want in the trenches with you; he’s one of the guys who train harder than I’ve ever seen anyone train.
‘He’s an amazing cricketer and special talent. But when the opportunity presents itself you still have to take it.’
Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the wicket of England’s Chris Woakes with team-mate Travis Head
Joe Root tried to lead a comeback for England but he was removed early on by Australia before the middle order fell away
Stokes’s relieved England skipper Joe Root said: ‘Ben Stokes is a freak, he’s incredible. The message at the start was to just keep believing. If we had two people out there still breathing then we have a chance.
‘After Stokes got to 60-70 he looked like he wasn’t going to get out. To win a game on your own from there is just amazing. He does have recent experience of doing it. Just incredible to watch unfold.’
Root’s delight would have seemed unthinkable just 48 hours earlier, when England were bowled out for an embarrassing 67 on Friday in a collapse which appeared to have ended their Ashes hopes.
It was their worst Ashes total since 1948, when they were lining up against the legendary Don Bradman, and Joe Denly’s top score of just 12 set another unwanted England record.
After bowling Australia out yesterday, England needed 359 to win, higher than any run-chase they had managed in more than 140 years of playing Test cricket.
Stokes started and finished the day at the crease but took an early blow to his helmet that saw the safety item break apart
England required 359 runs to win and Jonny Bairstow and his colleagues looked to be well off before Stokes got going
Hopes were raised when Joe Root and Joe Denly shared a century stand, before Stokes joined Jonny Bairstow in a counter-attacking partnership worth 86 vital runs.
But Bairstow’s patience snapped on 36 and Stokes was involved in a horrendous run out of Jos Buttler for one, a miscommunication that might have haunted both.
Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer came and went before Stuart Broad was ninth man down with England on 286, still 73 adrift of the finishing line with Stokes on a defiant but seemingly doomed 61.
In came the unlikely batting hero of Leach, who soaked up 17 balls in an hour, allowing Stokes to pen his masterpiece.
Stokes hit eight sixes and 11 fours as he saved the day and instantly laid claim to one of the greatest England innings of all time, while Leach’s solitary run in a 76 partnership was the one that levelled the scores.
Jos Buttler could not make an impact on the scorecard in the second innings as he was ran out by Head for just one
James Pattinson high-fives Australia captain Tim Paine after taking the wicket of Stuart Broad as they edged closer to victory
Bowling superstar Jofra Archer went for boundaries during his innings and was caught by Head trying a risky shot
Stokes then sprang into action though, hitting one of his many sixes off of a reverse sweep that was outrageously good
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 Leach.
Stokes aimed a big slog-sweep at the very next delivery, missing but given not out by umpire Joel Wilson. Replays showed he should have been out but Australia had wasted their last video review in the previous over on a hopeless shout against Leach.
Three balls later the number 11 fended Cummins to leg for one, guaranteeing England at least a tie and keeping the series alive, leaving the stage for Stokes.
He did not linger, planting Cummins through the covers for a majestic winning boundary before letting loose a guttural roar that will echo all the way from Manchester to Melbourne.
England fans go wild in the stands as they were treated to one of cricket’s special innings in the sunshine at Headingley
The boundaries did not stop there though as he continued to swat away Aussie deliveries, much to the delight of the crowd
Australian spinner Nathan Lyon collapsed to the floor after having an lbw appeal on Stokes firmly turned down by the umpire
With the match tied, Stokes drove the ball through the off side to ensure England won in the most dramatic of circumstances