Ben Stokes played an Ashes knock for the ages as England pulled off one of the greatest comebacks of all time to win the third Test by one wicket and level the series against Australia at 1-1.
England, bowled out for a dismal 67 in an appalling first innings, looked dead and buried at 286-9 in their pursuit of an unlikely 359 on Day 4 at Headingley as Australia had one hand firmly clasped on retaining the urn.
But Stokes clubbed eight sixes and 11 fours in a memorable unbeaten 135 that will go down in the pantheon of great knocks in Test cricket, as England completed their record run-chase in five-day cricket.
It evoked memories of Stokes’ heroics in the Cricket World Cup final just a month ago, when England defeated New Zealand in a Super Over thriller at Lord’s.
Just as in that game, there were several near misses in a nerve-wracking encounter that left a raucous crowd holding its breath.
Jack Leach – who gutted out 17 balls for just one run – should have been run out when a throw back to Nathan Lyon was dropped by the spinner with England’s number 11 well out of his crease.
Stokes himself looked pinned in front by Lyon, but the on-field decision was not out and with no reviews left Australia had no avenue to contest the call.
But the day belonged to Stokes – who soaked up the adulation of an adoring Leeds crowd – as England kept the Ashes alive in the most remarkable and thrilling of circumstances.
Such scenes at Headingley seemed little more than a wild dream just two days ago when England were embarrassed by a rampant Australia.
The stoic 126-run stand from Joe Root and Joe Denly on Saturday gave England the glimmer of hope they needed, but they were still facing a monumental task when play resumed the following day.
It was an even bigger mountain to climb when Root charged Lyon and saw an inside edge loop off the pads and lead to an unreal catch from David Warner diving to his left.
Stokes and Jonny Bairstow batted through valiantly to lunch, the former needing 83 balls to reach double figures, but England fell apart early in the afternoon.
Bairstow, having moments earlier successfully overturned a caught behind, wastefully tried to cut a wide Josh Hazlewood delivery that picked out second slip.
Jos Buttler (1) trudged back not long after as a careless mix-up with Stokes led to a run out from Travis Head, before Chris Woakes (1) chipped to cover in the tamest of dismissals and Stuart Broad made a duck.
Jofra Archer (15) put in an entertaining cameo but it appeared just a matter of time until Australia were to be celebrating retaining the urn. However, Stokes further etched his name into England folklore.
Lyon was given the treatment by the all-rounder, including an unbelievable reverse slog-sweep into the stands and Hazlewood was smashed over the ropes twice in consecutive deliveries.
England hearts were in mouths when Stokes sliced Pat Cummins to third man, but Marcus Harris could not cling onto the ball on the run.
In the next over, Australia missed the run out on Leach and had a great shout for lbw against Stokes turned down having already wasted their second review.
An emotional Stokes made Australia pay, clubbing Cummins through the covers for four to complete the most stunning of turnarounds.
STOKES STUNS AUSTRALIA
Tim Paine must have been dreaming of the celebrations when England were nine down and still 73 runs shy of their mammoth target. But Stokes – as has so often been the case – was a rock for England and played an innings to rival his efforts in the World Cup win.
LEACH STANDS HIS GROUND
Stokes will rightly earn the headlines, but Leach should be given more than an appreciative nod for his work. While others before him wilted in the Leeds sunshine the unheralded Leach wiped his glasses, kept his concentration and stood his ground, allowing Stokes to score the crucial runs.
MOMENT OF THE DAY
On a day to remember for England, the pick of Stokes’ bunch was a glorious reverse sweep off Lyon that cleared Hazlewood in the deep. It was a wonderful piece of skill and the gutsiest of knocks.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– 362 was the most runs England have ever recorded in the fourth innings to win a Test match.
– This was Stokes’ highest Test score versus Australia.
– Stokes registered his third Test century versus Australia – the most he has recorded against a single opponent.
– England had only recorded 300-plus in the fourth innings on home soil against Australia twice before this occasion.