He was perhaps the biggest star in world cricket heading into Ashes 2019. Just a few weeks before the start of the five-match series, Ben Stokes played the innings of his life to help England win the World Cup. While that effort will always remain special because of what was at stake, little did anyone know at the time that just over a month later, the left-hander would add another chapter to his collection of heroic knocks.
Australia were in England for the 2019 Ashes with a squad bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner. They must’ve felt confident about retaining the urn despite playing away from home. And they got just the start they needed when they defeated England in the first Test by a huge margin of 251 runs.
The second Test at Lord’s ended in a draw, leaving England under more pressure. To regain the urn, they needed to win two out of the next three Tests and not lose another match in the series. The heat was on. But there was one major positive that came out for them in the Lord’s Test – an unbeaten century in their second innings by Stokes.
The action then shifted to Headingley in Leeds. Joe Root opted to field first and his decision was vindicated by a Jofra Archer six-for. The right-arm quick, playing just his second Test, was immaculate with his line and length as the Aussies got bowled-out for just 179.
However, England’s joy was short-lived as they suffered a sensational collapse in their first innings. On the back of a five-wicket haul by Josh Hazlewood, Australia cleaned up the hosts for a mere 67 runs. Root and his men were down and out, the Aussies could smell another big win.
In their second innings, the visitors didn’t get the best of starts but they were in a decent position at 97/3. Their lead was of 212 runs at that time and with seven wickets in hand, it seemed they would go on to set an improbable target.
But that precise moment in the match marked the beginning of the Ben Stokes show. The all-rounder took it upon himself to bring his team back into the contest and he did it in the most incredible fashion.
First, with the ball in hand, Stokes got rid of Travis Head, Matthew Wade and Pat Cummins. His spell helped England bowl out Australia for 246 runs and get a target of 359 runs. It wasn’t a small ask by any means, but the hosts had a chance.
England found themselves in trouble early on in their chase as openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy perished with just 15 runs on the board. But a fine 126-run partnership for the third wicket between captain Root and Joe Denly kept them in the hunt.
The hosts were a long way from home when Denly departed for 50 and Stokes walked out to the middle at 141/3. They needed at least one more big partnership to give themselves a realistic chance of getting close to the target.
While Root walked back soon enough after scoring 77 runs, Stokes found an able partner in Jonny Bairstow and the duo added 86 runs for the fifth wicket.
But from there on, England suffered yet another batting collapse.
Here’s how the next five wickets fell:
Jonny Bairstow – 245/5
Jos Buttler – 253/6
Chris Woakes – 261/7
Jofra Archer – 286/8
Stuart Broad – 286/9
England had lost five wickets for just 41 runs and all of a sudden, it was Stokes and No 11 Jack Leach at the crease. There were 73 more runs needed and an Australian victory seemed inevitable.
However, over the next 62 deliveries, Stokes scripted one of the greatest comebacks the game has ever seen.
Well aware that there was no point in hanging around, Stokes decided to go after the Aussie bowlers. He was batting on 61 off 174 when Broad got out. By the time he was done, the left-hander was unbeaten on 135 off 219. He had scored 74 runs off just 45 balls to power his team to a most remarkable triumph.
During his assault, Stokes hit four sixes off the bowling of off-spinner Nathan Lyon, two off Hazleood and one off Cummins. It was a masterclass by a man at the peak of his powers.
Australia, looking clueless against Stokes, missed a golden opportunity to close out the match when England needed just two runs to win. Leach was miles out of the crease but Lyon, despite all his experience, succumbed to the nerves and couldn’t gather the ball to complete a run-out.
Having said that, Leach’s effort with the bat was brilliant as well. The left-hander showed great composure to remain not-out on 1 off 17 and take England to an epic one-wicket win.
“There’s nothing like being out there in the end and getting your team over the line. I didn’t get nervous till we needed single figures, I didn’t know what to do then,” said Stokes after the match.
Leach added: “It was a very special feeling. Stokesy was unbelievable. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And the crowd was insane.”
Australia did go on to retain the Ashes as the series ended in a 2-2 draw, but Stokes’s heroics at Headingley helped England claim one of their finest victories in Test cricket.
Watch highlights of that unforgettable match here: