When it got down to 20 (runs needed to win), I started thinking I could rein it in a little bit, but when it was 70s, 60s, 50s, I thought I had to really try and go. I was so in the zone as to what I had to do. —England’s cricket hero, Ben Stokes

England win against the odds

By Roger Childs

Ashes 4Coming into the third test, England were one down in the series against Australia. It seemed very likely it would become two down when the English were out for a paltry 67 in reply to  the visitors first inning of 179 at Leeds.

The Australians made 246 in their second turn at bat, leaving England 359 to win – a total they had never made in the final innings of test between the two sides. All seemed lost when the ninth wicket fell with their score at 286. However, New Zealand born Ben Stokes, virtually single-handedly pulled off a remarkable victory with the help of the stubborn number eleven batsman, Jack Leach, at the other end.

So it is now one-all in the Ashes series.

The Ashes — establishing the legend

Ashes 1The 1882 cricket victory to Australia at The Oval in London, was regarded as a national disaster in the old country. 

SpofforthEngland should have won the game as they needed only 85 runs in the second innings. But fast bowler F.W. Spofforth (right), who had taken 7 wickets in the first innings, took another seven second time around to leave the English 8 runs short.

The Sporting Times declared judgment. It regarded the defeat by the colonials as the death of English cricket and young journalist Reginald Brooks wrote a mock obituary with the punch line that “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” 

The image captured the public imagination, and the English team under Ivo Bligh (later Lord Darnley), went to Australia later in the year to “recover the ashes”. After their 2-1 victory in the series a group of Melbourne women presented Captain Bligh with an urn containing ashes.

After Lord Darnley’s death in 1927, his Australian-born widow, Florence gave the urn to the MCC to put in their museum at the Lords cricket ground.

Stokes to the rescue

So 137 years later, test cricket’s most famous rivals still play for the Ashes. Having lost the first test and drawn the second, England had to win at Headingley in Leeds to keep their hope alive.

Three wickets down for 156 starting the last day, the English needed a further 203. Captain Joe Root was quickly out, but Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow took the score through to 245 in an 86 run partnership. But then the wickets tumbled and needing 73 for the last wicket it seemed almost certain that Australia would win.

Stokes decided to throw caution to the wind and his next four scoring shots were sixes. At the other end Jack Leach kept the ball out when facing his 17 deliveries and scored just the one run. It was vital that he keep his wicket intact if England was to win the match.

The sell-out crowd couldn’t believe what was happening as Stokes battered the ball all round the ground and scored his last 74 runs off 42 balls. He had his share of luck when he was dropped in the deep with 17 runs still needed, and also when Aussie spinner Nathan Lyon dropped the ball 15 runs later when a run out seemed certain.

Ashes 2019With one run needed, Stokes hit a four through cover and England had pulled off one of the most remarkable victories in the long history of cricket. In one of the great test innings Ben Stokes had scored 135 not out ensuring that England kept its Ashes hopes alive.