Ben Stokes defiance keeps England in contention in third Ashes Test
Ben Stokes’ latest act of defiance and a spirited performance from England’s bowlers left everything up for grabs after two days of the third Ashes Test.
Just five days after scoring a brilliant 155 in a losing cause at Lord’s, Stokes once again dug deep to give his side hope with a muscular 80 at Headingley.
Despite batting through clear physical pain he pulled the trigger on five sixes and six boundaries, dragging England back from 87 for five to post 237 all out during a frantic afternoon session.
That kept the first-innings deficit to a manageable 26, with a dicey display from Australia’s top order leaving the tourists 116 for four at stumps for a lead of 142.
The England attack was depleted by two, with Stokes clearly unfit to bowl and Ollie Robinson reduced to a spectator’s role by back spasms, but showed huge heart to keep the game, and the series, alive.
Stuart Broad continued his long-time hex over David Warner, Moeen Ali prised mistakes out of Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith to reach 200 career scalps and Chris Woakes chimed in with the wicket of Usman Khawaja.
Australia skipper Pat Cummins had earlier claimed his best figures in Ashes cricket, brushing off the the boos that have followed him since last week’s stumping controversy to claim six for 91.
There was a sense of expectation in the air at the start of the day, with England vulnerable on 68 for three but two local heroes, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, unbeaten overnight.
With Bairstow bearing a grudge following the divisive stumping that sparked fury at Lord’s and both men eager to make up for dropped catches on day two, the stage was set for the pair.
Instead, they barely left a dent. Root nicked the second ball of the morning to slip, too eager to play at Cummins with no width available, and Bairstow was not far behind. Tempted to drive away from his body as Mitchell Starc slanted it towards the cordon, he saw his revenge mission fall flat.
Stokes was fighting through the pain barrier to keep the contest alive, moving awkwardly as fresh niggles added to his existing knee problems.
He admitted at the pre-match press conference that his century on Sunday took “quite a bit out of me” and the evidence was there for all to see. His movements were stiff and uncomfortable and there were plenty of grimaces, but he stuck to the task during a careful stand of 44 with Moeen.
Cummins finally drew the latter into a careless hook and Woakes was also undone by the short ball, leaving England under-powered on 142 for seven at lunch. A switch was flipped during the interval and the adrenaline flew during the next 10.2 overs, during which they piled on 95 runs and lost their last three wickets as the game romped along.
Mark Wood got the show on the road, launching Starc for six over midwicket off the first ball of the session. The second was slashed for four, the third for six more and when he top-edged Cummins over fine-leg he had 24 off just six deliveries.
That was where his fun stopped, chipping straight up in the air looking for more of the same, but the tone was set. Starc dropped Stokes on 45, unable to hold on low after making good ground, and it was Starc himself who paid the price as Stokes guided him for three successive boundaries to pass 50.
An outstanding boundary catch from Smith saw Broad become Cummins’ sixth victim, but the emergence of Robinson at number 11 merely raised Stokes’ temperature.
He blitzed Australia’s stand-in spinner Todd Murphy for five sixes in 14 balls – three back down the ground, one swept behind square and another picked up from outside off into the leg-side. He holed out going for another big hit, Murphy going flatter and wider.
Despite being down on numbers, England’s bowling unit needed to front up again and it was Broad who got them on the board in his second over.
Plowing a familiar furrow against the left-handed Warner, he earned an equally familiar edge to slip. For the 17th time in this longstanding duel, and the second time in as many days, Broad had won the head-to-head.
A stand of 55 between Khawaja (43) and Labuschagne (33) threatened to drag the game away from a tiring England. When Labuschagne gloved Wood down leg and Bairstow dropped the catch – his eighth miss of a chastening series – it looked a killer blow.
Remarkably, though, Labuschagne slogged Moeen to deep midwicket off his very next ball and Smith followed close behind. His trademark concentration deserted him after a few short moments, flicking the spinner nonchalantly but straight to the waiting Ben Duckett.
When Woakes snapped up Khawaja’s outside edge – and Bairstow managed to hold on – it left things finely poised with day one centurion Mitchell Marsh (17no) and Travis Head (18no) at the crease.