Ed Hawkins looks back on the unforgettable Third Test of the 2019 Ashes series in the latest edition of Classic Exchange Stories...
"Stokes, not content with his heroics in the World Cup final, reserved his place in the pantheon. Forget Botham's Ashes and the miracle of '81, this was an epoch-shattering match for a new generation. Those who saw it, listened to it, wagered on it will never forget it."
Setting the scene
Cricket fans and punters could have been forgiven for suffering from emotional fatigue following England's extraordinary World Cup final triumph. But they hadn't seen anything yet.
Not that the 2020 Ashes series had looked like developing into a classic in the first Test. England were beaten out of sight by Australia in Birmingham before rain washed out the entire first day at Lord's in game two.
Still, a tone had been set at Edgbaston. It was Steve Smith who was doing the conducting. His magnificent 144 from a total of 284 in the first innings was particularly extraordinary because the Aussies were in the mire at 120 for eight. England replied with 374 before Smith once again had them dancing to his tune. In the second innings he made 142. England crumbled to 146 all out with Nathan Lyon snarling, sniping and spinning his way to six wickets.
Before Headquarters, it was apparent Smith had got under England's skin. Pundits, analysts and scribes tried to out-do each other in ways to set a trap for the runmachine.
Despite the damp and the draw, a spark was lit. One which is likely to keep the Ashes burning for years to come. Smith made 92 in Australia's first-innings but his battle with Jofra Archer was one for the ages. Archer, on debut, produced a terrifyingly-quick spell to Smith. England had found a weapon. His bouncer left Smith stricken and forced him to retire hurt, a blow which meant Marnus Labuschagne became the first ever concussion substitute. Archer hit him on the head, too.
Then, in a sign of things to come, Ben Stokes hit an unbeaten 115. Australia didn't seem to know how to get him out, either. With Archer in terrorising form again, they were left ruing the rain. Australia were struggling at 154 for six in pursuit of 267.
Smith was ruled out of the third Test, England scented blood...
What our previewers said
Ed Hawkins: "Smith's absence dramatically swings the balance of power towards England - after the news was confirmed the hosts were backed in from [1.90] to [1.72] to win the Test with Australia out to [3.35].
"Just as England have had significant issues scoring runs so have the Aussies. Cameron Bancroft and David Warner can't buy a run, Usman Khawaja has not convinced while Matthew Wade and Tim Paine, it seems, need to an old ball and a depleted attack to look good."
But Hawkins concluded: "Before a ball was bowled in this series we said that the team batting first would dominate. Nothing that has happened so far has changed our mind. Australia are a terrific bet if they get the chance to bat first. They are [3.35]. That will take a hit if the toss goes England's way but, remember, if the Aussies win here the urn is retained."
Graeme Swann: "[Stuart] Broady is bowling exceptionally well to David Warner at the minute and he's exploiting that weakness I talked about before the series, just above the off stump. It's an area where you don't really face many balls with a white ball, certainly not that behave as the red one does early on in your innings. At the moment, he looks like a Test No 4 or No 5 who is opening the batting, which he is not. He's a very good opening batsman, but he's having the same struggles that he had last time he was here and it's a glaring weakness.
"Getting him cheaply at the top of the innings exposes their middle order and without Steve Smith, they are half the team so I hope Broady keeps bowling beautifully at him. I don't think Australia will drop Warner because he's a world-class player and you don't drop world-class players unless they're past it - which he is very much not."
Cricket...Only Bettor: Listen to The Miracle of Headingley
Day One - Australia 179
England ended day one as short as [1.34]. Australia were bowled out for just 179 but had been set fair for a big total with Warner and Labuschagne making half-centuries. At 136 for two, England were scratching their heads. Enter Archer, who produced another scintillating display. He took six for 45.
Day Two - England 67, Australia 171-6
A calamitous batting display from the hosts looked certain to condemn England to defeat and ensure Australia retained the urn. Pat Cummins took three wickets and Josh Hazlewood five as only Joe Denly managed double figures (12). England were out to [7.00] with the Aussies [1.16].
Day Three - England 156-3, Australia 246
England were set an ominous 359 to win. But there was optimism. At 15-2, England's odds on the exchange peaked at [17.00] before a 126-run partnership between Joe Root and Joe Denly brought them right back into the game.
Betting.Betfair's Paul Krishnamurty wrote: "First rule of punditry - never go out on a limb. It always comes back to haunt you. Twenty-four hours ago I wrote that England didn't have a prayer of saving the Ashes. They certainly have now. Precisely, they need 203 runs with seven wickets remaining to achieve their highest successful run chase ever on home soil."
Result - England won by one wicket
Stokes, not content with his heroics in the World Cup final, reserved his place in the pantheon. Forget Botham's Ashes and the miracle of '81, this was an epoch-shattering match for a new generation. Those who saw it, listened to it, wagered on it will never forget it.
England had suffered an early blow when Root was brilliantly caught by David Warner before Australia took the new ball. But a superb 86-run partnership by Johnny Bairstow and Stokes before lunch flipped the Match Odds market into England's favour, the home side trading at [1.50] at the interval.
The Aussies were hungry after lunch however, taking quick wickets as Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes fell cheaply. Jofra Archer then added 15 pivotal runs but when he was caught, and Stuart Broad was out lbw for a duck, England still needed 73 runs with just one wicket remaining and were trading at [36.00] in the match odds market.
Stokes, who had also been herculean with the ball in Australia's second-innings, invoked the spirit of Botham.
He began to smash the ball to all parts. His 135 included 11 fours and eight sixes and also saw him protect No. 11 Leach. In the 76-run partnership off 62 balls he contributed a single run off 17 balls faced. Only once in the history of Test cricket has a last-wicket pair scored more to secure victory.
Australia consistently fluffed their lines. They dropped Stokes on 116, Lyon dropped the ball when all he had to do was whip off the bails for a run out and they wasted a review on a Leach leg before meaning they had none left when Stokes was trapped dead in front by the same man.
The cricket world was suspended in disbelief. But reality bit England hard in the fourth Test. Australia, producing a psychological turnaround on a par with Stokes' physical brilliance, won by 185 runs in Manchester. Smith returned to snatch back the limelight with 211 and 82. The series would be drawn, with Aussie skipper inexplicably choosing to bowl first at The Oval and letting England back in for a 2-2 draw, a [3.40] shot post-Leeds.