Ashes diary: Headingley reaction after Ben Stokes epic and Nathan Lyon clanger

Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes

After Ben Stokes' spectacular century at Headingley drew England level in the Ashes, Richard Mann assesses Sunday's remarkable events and considers what they might mean for one Australian in particular.

Stokes sizzles in sunny, Sunday spectacular

I wrote only a week ago that I felt this series bore some similarities to the 2005 Ashes and that sports fans around the world had fallen back in love with cricket following the thrilling World Cup final at Lord's in July.

A tense drawn Test at Lord's, Australia clinging on for a draw in the fading London sun, left cricket lovers new and old demanding another epic battle that went down to the wire and delivered more of the high drama and unforgettable sporting moments that Ashes cricket so often produces.

Seven days later, with Australia motoring towards victory in Leeds and retention of that famous little urn that means so much to so many, this series was in grave danger of losing its significance and its appeal to the general public.

Also in danger was Joe Root. Not many England captains survive two Ashes defeats in succession and after he fell early on Sunday morning, he, his country, and the sport itself needed a hero.

That hero would be Ben Stokes.

To describe what came next is almost impossible but for those to have seen it live, whether it be at a sun-drenched Headingley or via Sky's excellent Ashes coverage, it was hard not to be moved and even harder not to be in awe of the skill of the man, and the great heart and bravery he displayed in the most intense of sporting environments.

The innings itself was one that had it all, showcasing Stokes' great versatility as a batsman and also his ability to seize the moment when it comes.

Think Tiger Woods on the back nine on the Sunday of the Masters at Augusta, Roger Federer in the final set of a Wimbledon final or Ronnie O'Sullivan needing to clear the snooker table to claim yet another ranking title. This was a brilliant sportsman, at the peak of his powers, just finding a way to win on the biggest stage of all.

His match-winning unbeaten 135 began late on Saturday afternoon, Stokes arriving at the crease with Australia on the hunt for wickets having finally ended Joe Denly's fine resistance that had seen him bring up his maiden Ashes half-century.

Denly's part in England's victory should not be downplayed, nor Root's, as they bore the brunt of Australia's fresh attack on a stifling Saturday afternoon that saw Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood deliver impressive spells of high-class fast bowling while Nathan Lyon probed away with his excellent off spin.

Denly's 155-ball 50 might not have broken the back of the run-chase but his partnership of 126 with Root, who went on to make 77, took the sting out of Australia's four-man attack and their efforts were not forgotten by Australian captain Tim Paine in his post-match press conference.

Nevertheless, Stokes had to weather a storm of his own as he battled for 50 balls to reach the close of play unbeaten on just two.

It was tough going and Australia kept up the pressure upon the resumption, Hazlewood hitting Stokes in the morning session with a sharp bouncer which sent both stem guards crashing from his helmet.

Ben Stokes takes a nasty blow at Headingley
Ben Stokes takes a nasty blow at Headingley

He wasn't rattled, though, and collected his first boundary of the day when whipping Lyon through the leg-side for four, moving to seven not out from 76 balls.

What was to come, nobody could envisage, but Jonny Bairstow's arrival at the crease was the first sign of England really taking the fight to Australia and his presence seemed to spark Stokes into life, the pair galloping towards lunch with Stokes now on 32, a pulled six into the stands off Cummins just an appetiser ahead of the main course.

At 238-4 at Lunch, England were marginal favourites with the bookmakers but the dismissals of Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad, all in relatively quick succession, had turned the game back on its head and the Ashes were all but gone.

When Jack Leach arrived at the crease, England had been reduced to 286-9, still 73 away from their victory target, and for Stokes, it was do or die, now or ever.

A six over long-off in the very next over moved him on to 67 but he was only just getting started, and two more sixes in Lyon's following over, including an extraordinary reverse-sweep over the point boundary, took the requirement below 50.

Leach then managed to negotiate four balls from a fired-up James Pattinson before Stokes went to work again, Cummins taken for 11 in his comeback over before Hazlewood's next six balls were hit for 19 as the Durham star passed three figures.

Jack Leach rushes to congratulate Ben Stokes
Jack Leach rushes to congratulate Ben Stokes

There would be no celebration from Stokes, though. As he pointed out later, personal milestones would count for nothing if he couldn't get his side over the winning line and his work was not yet done.

While all around him were beginning to feel the pressure, from a now delirious Headingley crowd to Paine and his wilting bowling attack, Stokes was unmoved, keeping remarkably calm and manipulating the field wonderfully so as to protect Leach from the majority of the bowling.

Of their partnership of 76, Leach contributed just one and that owed as much to Stokes' cool head, sound mind and remarkable rotation of strike as it did his power and strength.

Targeting the straight, shorter boundaries off Lyon's off spin while going leg-side against Hazlewood and Cummins, using their pace, were crucial and ultimately match-winning strategic decisions that were made under incredible pressure and with the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders.

Minutes later, a weary Cummins was flashed through the covers and victory was England's, Stokes their hero and social media asking for him to receive anything from a Knighthood to the job of prime minister. Given the current climate, he will probably receive the former in due course and perhaps ought to replace the current proprietor of Number 10.

This was an innings of great skill, a huge amount of bravery and one which demonstrated what a terrific cricket brain Stokes does boast.

It also said plenty about his great heart and his never say die attitude, something that was in evidence at the end of day two when, with England behind in the game having been dismissed for only 67 and Archer off the field with cramp, Stokes bowled for a whole session in a spell that spanned 16 overs.

For the second time in the match, the Ashes were all but gone, but Stokes didn't know when he was beaten, delivering 16 hostile overs on the reel to keep England in the contest by a thread, his three wickets preventing Australia taking their lead past 400 and setting a target that not even he would have been able to chase down.

It was an outstanding spell of fast bowling, all heart and courage, one that would precede a masterful and ultimately match-winning, potentially series-changing innings.

Ben Stokes just does't know when he's beaten - and don't Australia know it.

Australia's South Africa moment

Few who saw it will forget the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston, Allan Donald run out with South Africa needing one run for victory and a place in the final.

As it was, Australia were the ones to progress by virtue of finishing higher in the Super Six table, Adam Gilchrist keeping his cool to collect the ball and break the stumps before Australia went on to rout Pakistan in a one-sided final.

Some 20 years later, Nathan Lyon had the chance to retain the Ashes for Australia in almost identical fashion, Leach having been sent back by Stokes and some way short of his ground when Lyon failed to collect an accurate throw from point that should have resulted in a simple run out.

Nathan Lyon fails to complete a simple run out
Nathan Lyon fails to complete a simple run out

Lyon will surely be haunted by the missed opportunity, especially after having a huge lbw appeal against Stokes turned down the very next ball. Umpire Joel Wilson was unmoved and with Australia out of reviews, they were unable to challenge a decision that replays suggested was an incorrect one.

Australia were left powerless to prevent Stokes hitting the winning runs only a few balls later and the ramifications for Lyon, in particular, could be huge.

Having taken nine wickets in the first Test at Edgbaston, Lyon has struggled for his best form since, proving disappointing in the second innings at Lord's and again in Leeds, and having seemingly 'dropped' the Ashes once already, it will take huge character for him to bounce back Old Trafford.

As his captain, Paine, said on Sunday evening, Lyon simply must bounce back if Australia are to win the series. As the spinner in a four-man attack, it is vital that he gets through plenty of overs to let the pacemen rotate from the opposite end.

Nevertheless, he is a wicket-taker, too, and as a right-arm off spinner, he will be disappointed with how the left-handed Stokes has dominated him in the last two matches.

It was only four years ago that upon England's arrival in Australia for the last Ashes series, Lyon spoke of the desire to 'end English careers' with a commanding Australian victory.

In an ironic twist, Lyon is now fighting if not to save his career, then perhaps his legacy.

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