England has kept the Ashes series alive following a thrilling three-wicket win at Headingley, with the recalled Chris Woakes and Mark Wood guiding the hosts to victory on Sunday.
Despite a scintillating performance from Australian quick Mitchell Starc, England chased the 251-run target in exactly fifty overs, with Yorkshire local Harry Brook slapping 75 on day four.
The enthralling Ashes series resumed in Manchester next week, with the fourth Test commencing on July 19.
STOKES IS UNDENIABLE, BUT HE CAN’T BE THE ONLY MAN FOR ENGLAND
Ben Stokes is England’s heartbeat, captain, and spiritual leader.
He’s also the reason his side is still alive in this Ashes series, recast once again to Australia as both the immovable object and irresistible force.
From a precarious position of 7-142 on Friday, staring down the barrel of a big first-innings deficit, Stokes found his superman cape yet again to pull his side out of a hole and get them back into the game.
Stokes moved from 27 to 80 runs in a blink of an eye as England, led by their captain, plundered 95 runs within the space of ten overs after lunch. After Mark Wood’s brief flurry, The 32-year-old flicked the switch and started clearing the boundary for fun, all while his troublesome body continues to ache and cause him pain.
But he soldiered on through gritted teeth, showing all the true signs of the inspirational leader he is — if only he received some help from the top order.
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Stokes’ heroics continue to be one of the key prevailing storylines of this Ashes series. Following his near miracle on the fifth day at Lord’s last week, the England skipper has certainly “had his hands full”, according to former Australian wicketkeeper Ian Healy.
“He’s got to captain, he’s got to play with pain again, more pain than normal …” he said on Channel 9.
Even Stokes’ teammates know just how much pain he is fighting through.
“It’s difficult, there’s so much he’s dealing with,“ England spinner Moeen Ali told reporters at the end of day two.
“There’s a lot more than he’s showing. As long as he’s batting well, he’s fine. His body has obviously been through a lot but there’s one thing with ben, he can’t do anything without it being 100 per cent. Hopefully he’ll get through this series well, scoring a lot more runs.”
Stokes’ presence again was inevitable when he took to the centre the fourth day at Headingley with England’s chase teetering just before lunch.
“Cometh the hour,” former England opener Mark Butcher said on Sky Sports commentary when he walked out to take guard.
However, he inexplicably strangled one down the leg side and was dismissed for 13 moments after the lunch break.
England was aided by Harry Brook’s contribution, helping get England over the line with a vital 75, but too often this series has seen England rely heavily on their skipper and his failing body.
With a nine-day break now between Leeds and Manchester, the focus will turn to Stokes’ fitness and whether there is time enough for him to recover and continue leading England through the Ashes.
If not, England will have a decision to make as to who temporarily takes the reigns after vice-captain Ollie Pope was ruled out of the series with a shoulder injury.
For the sake of the compelling cricket the first three Tests have produced, we hope England’s talisman can call on his superhuman healing powers and power through.
THE ‘VIRUS’ PLAGUING ENGLAND’S ASHES
England won the Headingley Test by three wickets – but in truth, the margin of victory should have been considerably larger.
The hosts have been plagued by dropped catches throughout the Ashes campaign, and their sloppy fielding came back to haunt them on day one in Leeds.
Mitchell Marsh was on 12 when Chris Woakes found his outside edge, but Joe Root bottled the regulation chance at first slip. Earlier on Thursday, Travis Head tickled a short ball from Mark Wood down the leg side on 8, only for wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow put down the catch.
The missed chances proved costly – Marsh and Head combined for a game-changing 155-run partnership for the fifth wicket, with Australia ultimately securing a first-innings lead.
“There was a lot of talk last summer around the slip cordon, and it’s something they’re going to have to address pretty quickly in this series,” former Australian batter Mel Jones said on Sky Sports.
“The most concerning thing is they are simple catches too. The ones they are dropping are a dime a dozen.
“That’s something they’re going to have to rectify overnight, you can’t wait until next season.”
According to Wisden, England has dropped 18 catches and missed one stumping throughout the Ashes series to date, costing them 401 runs, which equates to approximately 66.83 runs per innings. Meanwhile, Australia has put down 14 chances at the cost of 268 runs.
“It’s like a virus, it spreads through the team,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports.
“I’m not just talking about in a day, it’s in a series — you lose it, you get hard hands.
“You’re thinking, ‘Don’t come to me, don’t come to me’, when in the field you should be wanting every ball to come to you.”
Bairstow, unsurprisingly, has been the biggest culprit with five dropped catches and a missed stumping. England’s selectors entrusted the Yorkshireman to don the gloves at the expense of first-choice wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, hoping Bairstow’s batting would make up for his less reliable glovework.
However, the right-hander hasn’t been able to replicate his batting heroics from last summer, registering 136 runs at 27.20 in five knocks. After his first-innings 78 at Edgbaston, Bairstow has hardly troubled the Australian bowlers.
“You think of all the emotion Jonny has been through over the last weeks — what happened at Lord’s, dropping chances at Edgbaston, talk about Ben Foakes,” former England opener Mark Butcher said on Sky Sports.
“He needs to clear his head and focus on what he is doing. I know he likes to play on the edge but that emotion is getting the better of him.”
Former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara continued: “I understand in England the conditions are not as easy when keeping to fast bowling with the wobble.
“But he’s got to train harder to get more confidence and rhythm into his keeping because his job is very, very crucial.”
‘See ya Smudge!’ Bairstow sledges Smith | 00:46
MARSH’S 97-YEAR FIRST GIVES SELECTORS FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In 2019, Mitchell Marsh infamously declared, “most of Australia hate me” and that “hopefully I’ll win them over one day.”
Well, it’s safe to say the 31-year-old flipped the script on that sentiment with a stunning knock of 118 in the first innings.
Marsh came to the crease with Australia sitting precariously on 4-85, and by the time the all-rounder departed, the visitors’ total was 5-240.
Although his second-innings score (28) couldn’t quite match his first-innings heroics, Marsh still put some crucial runs on the board for Australia.
However, the sad truth is that Marsh’s feats almost certainly would not have happened if not for Cameron Green sustaining a low-grade hamstring strain.
Green, an astounding talent at 24 years of age, hasn’t enjoyed much success this Ashes series. He scored 38 and 28 runs in the first Test at Edgbaston, but could only muster 0 and 18 at Lord’s.
Additionally, Green has taken just three wickets across four innings and leaked 171 runs in the process. Marsh, meanwhile, posted bowling figures of 1-9 and 1-23 at Headingley, becoming the first Australian cricketer to score a century and take two wickets in an Ashes Test in England since 1926.
Marsh century saves Aus on day one | 03:06
Green is the incumbent all-rounder and Marsh is under no illusions of his role as the back-up to his fellow Western Australian.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of squads over the last couple of years … I know my role in this team,” Marsh said.
“And I know that as an all-rounder for him playing all three formats and being in the IPL now, there’s going to be times where he needs a break.
“So I knew that at some stage an opportunity would come. I’ve loved working with Greenie. He’s a special talent.”
However, as Australian legend Mark Taylor pointed out, Marsh’s feat coupled with Green’s struggles at the crease gives the selectors plenty of food for thought ahead of the fourth Test in Manchester.
“There’s no doubt that Cameron Green burst onto the scene, but he’s only got the one Test hundred so far,” Taylor told Wide World Of Sports on Thursday.
“Been very handy with the ball and brilliant in the gully, no doubt about that, so it’s certainly no slight on Cameron Green and what he’s done.
“But Mitchell Marsh, who’s been tried a number of times, in and out of the side on numerous occasions in his career — he got another opportunity today and made a hundred. He also got a wicket late.
“So all of a sudden the competition is back on for the all-rounder spot.”
STARC CONQUERS DEMONS AFTER ‘HELL OF A SPELL’
Who said Mitchell Starc couldn’t bowl in England?
Starc ripped the heart out of England’s middle order on Sunday, setting up a nail-biting afternoon session on day four at Headingley.
He expertly utilised the wobble-seam delivery in the morning session, a weapon he didn’t possess four years ago, to knock over opener Ben Duckett and Moeen Ali in quick succession.
Starc returned after the lunch interval, removing the dangerous Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, albeit in fortuitous circumstances, to expose England’s lower order.
It was also the 11th time Starc had dismissed Bairstow in Tests, which is comfortably more often than any other batter – the Yorkshireman averages 14.73 against Starc in Tests.
He secured the five-wicket haul by dismissing Harry Brook, England’s top-scorer in the second innings, adding one final twist to the nail-biting contest.
It was an inspired spell from the left-hander, resolving two anomalies in his otherwise stellar Test career – the fourth innings, and English conditions.
Before the Ashes series, Starc had an abysmal record in the fourth innings of red-ball Tests – since the start of 2021, he averaged claimed four wickets in seven innings at an average of 115.50.
Thankfully, the New South Welshman has well and truly conquered his fourth-innings demons – after taking 3-79 at Lord’s, he finished with 5-78 at Headingley, his first Test five-wicket haul in England since 2015.
Starc, embarking on his fourth Ashes tour of England, had a respectable Test record in the United Kingdom before this series, but it was considerably weaker than teammates Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
On his previous three Ashes tours, he averaged 32.45, 30.50 and 31.50 with the ball, missing four matches in the 2019 series as national selectors prioritised seam bowlers. He also missed selection for the series opener at Edgbaston, with Scott Boland preferred over the veteran quick.
However, Starc has silenced any lingering critics that believe he can’t bowl in England, almost single-handedly steering Australia towards an unlikely victory.
CUMMINS MAKES MURPHY DOWN PAYMENT, BUT FAILS TO CASH IN
Todd Murphy came on this Ashes tour to learn everything he could as the heir to Nathan Lyon as the country’s first-choice spinner.
But due to an untimely injury to Australia’s Mr Consistent, Murphy was thrust into the Ashes furnace ahead of time.
Largely unused in the first innings as the seam bowlers took control of the second morning, Murphy did have his turn in the spotlight.
The steady start though very quickly turned into a baptism of fire for the 22-year-old, as Stokes took a liking to the young Victorian after lunch, depositing him into the Headingley stands five times in the post-lunch blitz.
It heaped pressure on the understudy as the banter and advice came from over the fence in the Western Terrace.
Stokes smashes Murphy for five sixes | 01:21
While still young in his professional career, having played just a dozen first-class matches before his Test debut against the world’s best players of spin in their own conditions, Murphy once again found himself right in the deep end against one of the hottest players in the game.
But just as he worked himself through his impressive Test debut, where he collected a seven-wicket haul, Murphy was creating chances and had the backing of captain Pat Cummins, who kept throwing him the ball despite Stokes going at him.
Not only did Murphy win the battle by taking the wicket of Stokes, but Cummins had the down payment on Murphy’s position as the heir apparent by backing him in after he went the journey.
As coach Andrew McDonald put it: “We threw him the ball – that speaks everything.”
Cummins again waited to introduce Murphy into the attack in the second innings as the seamers made steady breakthroughs in the morning session of day four. However, the spectacled Victorian only bowled the last over before lunch, which raised eyebrows.
“I’m a little surprised we didn’t try Murphy a little earlier,” former Australian captain Mark Taylor said on Channel 9.
Former Test batter Callum Ferguson was also surprised why Cummins and Australia waited to “give him a chance to get into the game,” despite conditions suiting the seamers, which would have prompted England to make a tactical switch with their batting order.
“A couple of players who aren’t as capable against spin, starting their innings against him would have been interesting to see,” Ferguson said on Channel 9.
“Especially when Stokes first came in, I would have liked him to get on straight away.
“But earlier in the day would have been nice.”
Former Sri Lankan wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara opined on Sky Sports: “I was a bit surprised they held their spin back for so long. They should have brought him in a lot earlier to see what would happen on this pitch.”
Murphy was thrown the ball again as the required runs dropped below 30 with what former England batter Mark Butcher described as a “roll of the dice” — the over went for six runs.
He was instantly replaced when Mitchell Starc got the wicket of the dangerous Brook the following over, ending the second innings having only bowled the two overs.
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