LEEDS: England captain Ben Stokes’s latest dashing counter-attack kept his side’s Ashes hopes alive in the third Test against Australia at Headingley on Friday.
Trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five series, England were in danger of conceding a large first-innings lead when they slumped to 142-7 at lunch in reply to Australia’s 263.
But all-rounder Stokes’s brilliant 80 took them to 237 all out, a deficit of just 26 runs, despite Australia captain Pat Cummins’s fine return of 6-91.
Stokes also hit a blistering 155 at the second Test at Lord’s last week despite England falling to a 43-run defeat.
The skipper’s innings revived memories of Stokes’s Ashes heroics at Headingley four years ago, when his astounding unbeaten century guided England to a remarkable one-wicket win.
After losing local heroes Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow early in the day, England were seven wickets down when Chris Woakes fell to the last ball before lunch.
But recalled fast bowler Mark Wood, having taken an impressive 5-34 on Thursday, then set about Australia’s bowlers.
To his first ball Wood hoicked left-arm quick Mitchell Starc for six.
It was the start of an eight-ball salvo that yielded 24 runs and got the deficit down to under a hundred runs before Wood holed out off fast bowler Cummins.
Stokes then upped his tempo with three consecutive boundaries.
But the England skipper was reprieved twice on 45 off successive Todd Murphy deliveries.
He was dropped by Starc, running in from long-off, before Murphy – called up after Nathan Lyon’s tour-ending calf injury at Lord’s – then failed to hold a hard-hit return catch.
Root out cheaply
Stuart Broad, however, was brilliantly caught by Steve Smith, running round in the deep, to give Cummins his sixth wicket of the innings.
Stokes completed an 86-ball fifty in style when he drove Murphy for a straight six and promptly repeated the dose the very next delivery.
He launched Murphy for another six before he holed out next ball off the spinner to end a 108-ball stay featuring six fours and five sixes.
Earlier, England resumed on 68-3 only to lose four wickets for 74 runs in the morning session.
Root was 19 not out and Bairstow, whose controversial stumping exit at Lord’s provoked a furious row, unbeaten on one.
The pair received a rousing reception as they walked out to bat on a sunny morning at their Yorkshire home ground.
But Root fell for his overnight score with just the second ball of the day, when the star batsman tentatively edged Cummins to David Warner at first slip.
Bairstow then exited for 12 when he flat-footedly drove at a ball angled across him from Starc, with Smith holding a sharp catch in front of his face at second slip.
The latest example of Australia’s superior fielding left England in dire straits at 87-5.
For all his commitment to England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ style, Stokes – in at 68-4 – was content to play the situation and only went for his shots when left with the tail.
Woakes and Moeen Ali both perished going for pull shots rather than trying to support their skipper.
World Test champions Australia, bidding for their first Ashes series win in England in 22 years, had been indebted Thursday to Mitchell Marsh.
The all-rounder marked his first Test since 2019 with a run-a-ball 118 after being dropped on 12 when Root floored a regulation slip catch.