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Stokes Heroics Can’t Quite Save the Day

After all the drama of Edgbaston, the two sides moved down to Lord’s gearing up for the next instalment of the Ashes. Australia made just one change to their line-up, Mitchell Starc coming in for Scott Boland, who had disappointed in the first Test. England’s dilemmas were increased by the injury to Moeen Ali’s spinning finger, and he hadn’t recovered sufficiently to be picked. Given how few wickets England spinners have taken at Lord’s recently, it was no surprise when Rehan Ahmed, who had been called up to the squad, was not selected. What did perhaps surprise was that none of the three frontline seamers – James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson – was rested, and so the one dilemma was which seamer to bring in. Josh Tongue got the nod over Mark Wood, who was not quite ready, Matty Potts and Chris Woakes.


On a cloudy, humid Wednesday morning when England won the toss it was no surprise that they chose to field first, especially as the average first-innings score in the last ten Tests at Lord’s was just 197. The game was just an over old when there was a pitch invasion by Just Stop Oil protestors, who tried to throw powder all over the wicket. They didn’t get quite that far, and the sight of Jonny Bairstow carrying one of them to the boundary, tucked under his arm almost like a cardboard cut-out provided one of the images of the day.


England expected early wickets, but, barring an edge from Usman Khawaja that reached Joe Root on the half-volley, there was no luck. When Broad changed ends, he immediately had David Warner edging to Ollie Pope, but the chance went down. Australia won’t have cared at all that it took them 110 balls to complete a fifty opening partnership. Warner was dominating, and went to his fifty with a six, taking 66 balls to reach the landmark. Just on the stroke of lunch, Tongue nipped one back down the slope and Khawaja left it but heard the death rattle so his side went into the break on 73 for one.


The afternoon session began with Anderson piling on the pressure but with no results. Finally, Tongue struck, beating Warner all ends up with a delivery that cut him in half and sent him back to the pavilion on 66. Steve Smith came out with real intent, going to 24 off just 15 deliveries, before he was given out caught behind off Broad the next ball, only to review it and survive. The fifty partnership between Smith and Marnus Labuschagne came up in 47 balls. Smith then became the fourth Australian to reach 9000 Test runs, after Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Allan Border. By tea, it was 190 for two, with England looking ragged and Australia very much in charge.


Early in the evening session, the hundred partnership duly arrived in 144 balls, and you began to fear it could get much bigger. Almost immediately, Robinson found a thin edge of Labuschagne’s bat and he was out for 47. Travis Head was immediately handed some wide long-hops to attack, with Robinson often guilty of straying. Smith reached his fifty off 102 balls, and it felt as though he would keep on going. It was no surprise when another fifty partnership came up, this time in 54 balls, and then Head went to his fifty in just 48 balls. Some of the shot-making was sublime, but some of the bowling wasn’t great, and the hundred partnership took 104 balls – England were being Bazballed. Suddenly, Head charged past one from Joe Root and Bairstow took off the bails to remove him for 77 in 73 balls. Third ball, Cameron Green mistimed a shot and lobbed it up to Anderson to give Root his second. Just before the new ball was taken, it gave England a bit of a lift, but at 339 for five it had been definitively Australia’s day.


Day Two began with England knowing that the Ashes were in danger of slipping away from them if they didn’t turn things round quickly. After a couple of wayward deliveries, Broad got one to go back up the slope to remove Alex Carey for 22, and England were into the bowlers. Starc flashed at a wide one from Anderson, edging to Bairstow: 358 for seven. But Smith was still there, and soon an inevitable 12th century against England and his 32nd overall came up off 169 balls. Finally Smith fell, edging Tongue to gully where Ben Duckett took a great catch to remove him for 110. Nathan Lyon came out for his 100th consecutive Test, becoming just the sixth player in history to achieve that feat, and the first bowler – a remarkable tribute to his fitness and his adaptability on all surfaces. He didn’t last long, out caught in the deep, hooking Robinson. Hazlewood edged Robinson to Root, and Australia were all out for 416. The morning had gone England’s way, but had the damage been done on the first day?


Duckett and Zak Crawley had a tricky four overs to negotiate before lunch, but they saw it through, reaching 13. For the first time in Test history, they were facing a bowling attack where four bowlers each had 200 or more Test wickets (Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon and Starc), so there was unlikely to be any respite in the afternoon. Inevitably, they played positively, with the fifty partnership arriving after 61 balls. Then Crawley was stumped off Lyon from a ball fired down the leg side, and he had to go on 48 off 47; the 91 opening partnership was England’s highest in the Ashes since 2009. Duckett went to fifty off 84 balls, before he and Pope put on fifty for the second wicket in 69 balls, and at tea it was 145 for one, with England moving back into contention.


The evening began with a flurry of runs, as Green proved expensive. Even more significantly, Lyon pulled up with a calf problem in the outfield. Of all the players in their squad, he was surely the toughest to replace. It was 182 for one, and England’s moment had arrived, if they continued to play positively but sensibly. Instead, Pope couldn’t resist the temptation when faced with a field set for a short-pitched barrage and found the safe hands of Smith to fall for 42. It nearly got worse when Root tried hooking his second ball, only to glove it to Carey, but Green had overstepped. Hazlewood continued the short-pitched approach, and Duckett was caught at fine leg on 98. On 8, Root went into the Top 10 all-time Test runscorers, with 11,176, overtaking Border. He didn’t get much further as he too fell hooking, caught by Smith off Starc. Having had a potentially match-turning bonus of Lyon’s injury, England had lost three wickets in quick succession, all to the same ploy. At 222 for four they were deep in trouble. Harry Brook and Stokes saw England through to the close, though not without Brook getting a life when he too hooked one to Labuschagne, who couldn’t hold on. At the close, it was 278 for four, with the game almost in the balance.


England got off to the worst possible start when Stokes fell to Starc, caught in the gully, off the first ball he faced. Starc and Cummins piled on the pressure, but Brook went to his first home fifty, off 63 balls. However, struggling to cope with the short ball, he stepped two feet outside his leg stump to try to swat it through the covers, only to chip one from Starc to Cummins – it was a poor shot: 293 for six. Bairstow then popped one from Hazlewood to Cummins at mid-on. Robinson was caught behind off Head, before Broad was LBW to the same bowler. Tongue fended a short one from Cummins into the hands of short square leg. England were all out for 325, having lost their last six wickets in just 15.2 overs at the start of the day. It was a tame effort, and a lead of 91 runs was significant – even with the loss of Lyon.


After that, England needed to strike early, but for all the pressure exerted by Anderson and Broad, Australia got to lunch 12 without loss. The afternoon began with Australia gritting it out against some more fine bowling, perhaps offering a lesson to their England counterparts, as the fifty partnership came up in 125 balls – their third successive such partnership. Finally Tongue struck, removing Warner LBW with the score on 63. At tea, it was 81 for one.


Early in the evening, Khawaja reached yet another fifty, off 105 balls, as the score went past 100. Broad could have had Labuschagne LBW but both the umpire and his captain turned down his appeal, but the Australian didn’t make England pay too much as he fell tamely to Anderson on 30, lifting a long hop to Brook at backward point. Soon after, the rain came and the players went off for the day with the score at 130 for two.


The momentum continued in Australia’s favour on the fourth morning, as Khawaja and Smith brought up their fifty partnership in 105 balls, then a mistimed hook shot from Khawaja looped up off his shoulder and Bairstow stretched to reach it but couldn’t cling on. Finally, after more than an hour’s play, Broad came on and another Khawaja hook shot went wrong and he was caught for 77 at fine leg. First ball Head faced, off Tongue, he slashed it to Anderson in the gully, only for the Lancastrian to put down the chance – England’s catching was continuing to be a key part of their troubles. Fortunately, Smith helped a short ball from Tongue straight down fine leg’s throat, as Australia showed they could match England for poor batting against bouncers. Head didn’t stick around for long, brilliantly caught at short square leg by Root, as he tried to fend off an excellent bouncer from Broad. It was a doubly significant moment for Root, as it was his 176th catch for England, taking him past Alastair Cook’s record of 175 – only five players in Test history now have more. At lunch, it was 222 for five and England had had a decent session with their short-pitched tactic – but not good enough after what had gone before.


The afternoon began with England persisting with the short stuff, Australia failing to rise to the bait, and the scoreboard becalmed. Eventually Green couldn’t resist going after one from Robinson, only to find the man on the square leg boundary; he’d made 18 off 67. Robinson followed it up by digging one into Carey’s chest, and it popped up to Root. With seven wickets down, Australia took their lead past 344, the highest-ever successful run chase at Lord’s, when West Indies famously raced to that total for the loss of one wicket.


Stokes thought he’d got his opposite number, only for the delivery to be called a no ball – England were continuing to hinder their own chances. It didn’t cost England too much, as Cummins then fell fending one from Broad to gully. In Stokes’s 12th over of his marathon spell, Hazlewood was caught at short square leg. Lyon then hobbled out to bat – with a lead of over 360, it seemed an unnecessary risk to the fitness of the spinner, but it also highlighted Australia’s desire to eke out every run, in contrast to England’s brave but flawed first-innings declaration in the first Test. Broad finished it off, having Lyon caught, and Australia were all out for 279, leaving England to chase 371.


England’s chase began with an early drop by Green off Duckett, before Crawley tickled one down the leg side and was caught by Carey off Starc, giving him his 314th wicket, taking him above Mitchell Johnson into fourth in the all-time list of leading Australian wicket-takers. It nearly got worse, but Duckett was saved by DRS. An injured Pope was then completely castled by a superb inswinger from Starc and England’s pursuit was already looking forlorn. A ruffled Root edged Cummins to Warner, then in the same over Cummins beat Brook’s defences: 45 for four. Stokes would not have expected to be batting in the 13th over, but the quality of the bowling had ripped England’s top order to shreds.


Duckett and Stokes put on a fifty partnership in just 69 balls, but it was only the start of what was needed, as was Duckett’s fifty off 62 balls. Moments later, there was a controversial incident when Starc caught Duckett low down on the boundary, but as he slid along the ground his fingers appeared to be on top of, not underneath, the ball and the decision was given as not out – an interpretation that wasn’t universally shared. It would not be the last controversy of the match, though. At the close, it was 114 for four, and England were clinging on.


With England going into the final day needing 257 with six wickets left, their chances looked bleak. The morning started well, with the hundred partnership coming up in 157 balls before Stokes went to fifty in 99 balls. After the drinks break, Duckett top-edged a pull shot to the keeper off Hazlewood and was out for an excellent 83: 177 for five. Bairstow was the next man in, and his early dismissal was to change the mood of the whole match. After the sixth ball of Green’s over, he wandered out of his crease, assuming the over had been called, but Carey had already lobbed the ball towards the stumps and Bairstow was out stumped. It was a careless piece of cricket from the Yorkshireman, who should have waited till the ball was dead, but the manner of his dismissal caused fury in the crowd. When Broad went out to bat at 193 for six, he said to Carey: ‘That’s all you’ll ever be remembered for.’


One of the lessons of recent years in cricket is that you probably don’t want to get Ben Stokes fired up and focused on making you pay for your actions. When Bairstow was out, he had made 62 off 126 balls; that was about to change. He took Green for three boundaries in an over, then he hit Green for three sixes in an over to bring up his hundred off 142 balls, while the fifty partnership came up in 29 balls, of which Broad had made just one. Lunch came with the score 243 for six and, as the players walked in, the MCC members booed the Australians through the Long Room.


Second ball after lunch, Stokes launched Hazlewood back over his head for six, then he mistimed a pull shot where the normally safe hands of Smith fumbled it. Another mistimed pull hit the fingers of a diving Carey, who couldn’t cling on. The crowd were loving it, and Broad (rarely one to de-escalate things) asked Carey if he was claiming the catch. When Stokes hit his sixth six, it was the most by any batter in a Test at Lord’s; two balls later he extended the record and soon the target was under 100. When the hundred partnership came up after 93 balls, dreams of a famous victory began to grow, especially when Stokes reached 150 off 197 balls and the score got to 300.


But dreams rarely come true, and Stokes mistimed a shot off Hazlewood, which looped up for Carey to run around and claim the catch. His 155 off 214 balls featured nine sixes – only eight innings in Test cricket have included more. But at 301 for seven, with 70 needed, it was surely game over. Robinson was caught in the deep by Smith, then Broad found Green at fine leg and finally, despite a 25-run tenth-wicket partnership, England were all out for 327 and had lost by 43 runs.


It had been another wonderful advert for Test cricket, but England had missed various opportunities to take charge, especially after the loss of Lyon, and left themselves with too much to do in the end – even with Stokes at his defiant best. Only once in Ashes history has a side come back from 2-0 down in the series to win; that was now England’s chall