Ben Stokes produced a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ performance for the second time this summer as his brilliant century kept the Ashes alive with a thrilling one-wicket victory over Australia at Headingley.
The all-rounder hit a superb 135 not out, channelling the spirit of Sir Ian Botham in 1981, and arguably eclipsed his match-winning turn in the World Cup final, to lead England to their record chase of 359.
Anything less and Australia would have retained the urn at 2-0 with two to play but what transpired was simply one of the most incredible roars of defiance ever seen on a cricket field, as he led last man Jack Leach in an unbroken stand of 76 for the final wicket.
Stokes hit eight sixes and 11 fours as he instantly laid claim to one of the greatest innings of all time, while Leach’s solitary run was the one that levelled the scores.
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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.
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 bang to rights but Australia had frittered away their last review in the previous over on a hopeless shout against Leach.
Three balls later the number 11 fended Cummins to leg for one, guaranteeing a tie, 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.