After getting dismantled for a mere 67 in the first innings, expecting England to chase down 359 was rather unreasonable. Not that it is above their skills but their batting has not quite clicked well together in the series. Losing to West Indies earlier this year further strengthens the judgement.
Ben Stokes was unbeaten on 3 off 70 at one stage. Definitely he was not trying to save the Test, for they were given two days to attain the target. Before he took the crease, Joe Root and Joe Denly had laid the foundation for the chase with gritty fifties. However, Australia kept mounting pressure on England and took wickets at regular intervals. Jonny Bairstow, after trying hard not to edge, lost his patience and Jos Buttler was a victim of indecisive running between the wickets. Eventually, Stokes was left with the No. 11, Jack Leach. The scorecard read 286 for 9, with England needing another 73 runs to win.
Given the kind of English summer Stokes has had, anything was possible, and that happened. Of the 74 runs that England collected after that, Jack Leach had only a run to his name. Stokes took the centre stage and scripted one the finest chases in the format. He remained unbeaten on 135 off 219 including 11 fours and 8 sixes, keeping The Ashes alive.
Root called it right at the toss and elected to field first. The idea was to use the moisture in the wicket and rattle the opposition with swing. Steven Smith’s unavailability had already weakened the Australian middle-order. However, none of that sort happened. David Warner fought tooth and nail and scored his first fifty of the series. To make matters worse, Smith’s replacement did not disappoint: Marnus Labuschange showed magnificent character and added crucial 74 runs, taking Australia to 179 all out in conditions that favoured seam movement. Jofra Archer finished with a spectacular six-wicket haul.
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In reply, England bundled out for 79, thanks to Hazlewood’s five-for. Australia, now, had the momentum. Although they did not have the best of starts, Marnus Labuschagne yet again held the fort: he was as solid as Smith. His 80 runs made sure he had set enough target to keep England on the backfoot. What followed will now be repeated in the episodes of close encounters. A certain Ben Stokes played the innings of his life, single-handedly putting Labuschange’s efforts in vain.
Australia 179 all out (Labuschagne 74, Warner 61; J Archer 6/45) & vs 246 all out (Labuschagne 80; Stokes 3/56) lost to England 67 all out (Hazlewood 5/30, Cummins 3/23) & England 362/9 (Stokes 135*, Root 77, Denly 50; Hazlewood 4/85) by 1 wicket.
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