The greatest match of all

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IT was the greatest Ashes innings… and maybe the greatest match ever.  This epic series is tied going to Old Trafford next week. KEN PIESSE was at the amazing finish:

THEY came in their tens of thousands to Headingley this morning, all with one thought: a series-squaring English win.

Along Kirkstall Lane, a set of mates in their cricket whites and pads, walked arm and arm trumpeting how England was going to do the impossible and win from nowhere.

Celebrated local Michael Vaughan said never before had he seen Headingley so packed before a ball had been bowled… “and it’s Sunday”.

The scalpers were holding court, with queues forming to negotiate.

Joe Root’s Saturday night heroics had injected rare momentum into the match.

Needing a further 203 on the fourth day, the crowd roared their approval at every run. When the target was reduced to 100, everyone stood and applauded, stumping even Aggers and his fellow radio commentators before they looked at the huge TV screens trumpeting “100 To Win”.

Stokes, a World Cup hero just a month back, led  a thrilling counter charge after Root fell early. His 86 run stand with Jonny Bairstow was captivating, yet another twist in this dramatic match.

His remarkable innings, a curious mixture of determined defence and marvellous, imperious lifts,  has been described as the best ever by an Englishman, ever, anytime.
While he remained today, England had an outside chance.

But it still took a 77-run 10th wicket stand for England to win a remarkable match, the best since the first in 1877.

Had the Australians had an available review, Stokes would have been given out lbw to Nathan Lyon, with just two runs the difference. Umpire Joe Wilson rejected the ever-so-confident appeal, replays showing that the ball would have hit middle and leg.

At the lunchtime 4-238, a further 121 were required and the crowd was expectant. But Bairstow succumbed immediately afterwards, Jos Buttler was barbecued and Jofra Archer victim of his own aggression.

Along the way Lyon passed Dennis Lillee’s  famous mark of 355 Test wickets. He was again in captain Tim Paine’s front line as England motored towards the unlikeliest of targets.

When James Pattinson trapped No 10 Stewart Broad for a second ball duck, 73 were still needed. Stokes started to hit, long and hard including a remarkable switch hit six, one of two 6s for the over.

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Pattinson was bowling with one slip and eight outriders, all perched around the boundaries, as is allowed in Test cricket.

The crowd involvement was amazing. With less than 50 needed, the entire Western Stand started to sing “Don’t take me, don’t take me home… I want to stay here.”

Last man Jack Leach, in his first Ashes series,  defended bravely, helping Stokes to the greatest 100 of all, given the circumstances.

Several half chances were given in the frenetic finish and Lyon  fumbled a run out attempt on  last man Leach.

The Australians had their opportunities, but cricket and Stokes were the winners.

It was right up there with Brisbane 1960, Madras 1986 and Edgbaston 2005 as the tensest and most remarkable match of all,

The series continues at Old Trafford next week and finishes at The Oval in mid-September. 

Australia 179 and 246 lost to England 67 and 9-362 (Root 77, Stokes 135 n.o, Bairstow  36. Hazlewood 4/85).

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Author: Ken Piesse

KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au

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