Ben Stokes keeps Ashes dream alive with greatest innings of modern times
When England suffered an all too familiar collapse, hope of a comeback was all but gone
The English are not an optimistic people. We fear the worst to avoid disappointment and even in moments of getting carried away, there is an underlying reluctance to get our hopes up, knowing that more often than not our dreams do not materialise.
So it was understandable that after England failed to capitalise on bowling Australia out relatively cheaply in the third Ashes Test, suffering an all too familiar collapse, bowled out for just 67, hope of any sort of result was non-existent.
Australia set a target of 359, with two and a half days for England to reach it. It was very much, Operation Don't Fucking Get Out. Unfortunately for England, some players didn't get the memo, as openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy were once again dismissed with neither managing to get double figures on the board.
A true captain's innings was needed from Joe Root, who crawled to 77 before a brain fart saw him caught behind by David Warner. Joe Denly contributed an important 50 but it would be Ben Stokes to step up and save the day once again.
Scoring just two runs from his first 50 balls, Stokes knew what was required of him: don't do anything stupid, because once he goes, there is no safety net in the lower order.
There were several "that's it, then. That's the series gone" moments, most notably when Jos Buttler was run out after a mix-up between the wickets, meaning we were down to the bowlers.
Chris Woakes went for one. Jofra Archer showed some discipline and some flair, before getting carried away and caught from a top edge.
Stuart Broad was, well, Stuart Broad and dismissed lbw, leaving it to Jack Leach, to defend, defend and defend some more, allowing Stokes to do his thing.
And right on cue, he stepped up. There was fortune on the way to victory; Australia captain Tim Paine wasted a review moments before the umpire missed a plumb lbw, much to the dismay of Nathan Lyon, who collapsed to the floor in frustration. Stokes was also dropped in the outfield despite MarcusHarris' best efforts.
Stokes syncopated dot balls with boundaries, reverse sweep sixes and audacious flicks over the top. Every ball was a matter of life and death, and the nation was captivated. You daren't leave the room for a toilet break in case you missed something. People at bank holiday barbecues huddled round mobile phones for a piece of the action. For the second time this summer, Ben Stokes had brought the nation to a halt.
After the fall of the ninth wicket and Jack Leach's arrival at the crease, Stokes' shots went as follows: 6, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 6, 0, 0, 0, 6, 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 6, 2, 1, 4, 6, 6, 2, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 4, 4, 1, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 0, 4.
He scored 74 runs off the last 42 balls.
This is a man who cannot be fazed by any situation, he is the ultimate clutch player, and has just saved any chance of regaining the Ashes all by himself. He is a national hero and a shoo-in for Sports Personality of the Year, and a place on the Queen’s New Years honours list.
I say all by himself, but Jack Leach's cooperation in this partnership - the second biggest 10th wicket partnership ever to win a Test - was crucial. He took no risks, never put himself in danger of being run out and also produced the most English sporting image of all time: cleaning his glasses before winning an Ashes Test.
Leach scored just one run but such is the beauty of Test cricket, the scoreboard doesn't tell the whole story. It is the best 1* of all time.
As Stokes' winning boundary raced through the outfield, he let out a roar in unison with Headingley, Leeds, and the rest of the country. It was a day of cricket that saved the series, converted sceptics and reminded everyone why the longest format is the most gratifying.
Arise Sir Ben.