Stokes heroic ton seals historic win in Ashes thriller
Ben Stokes' unbeaten 135 saw England clinch a remarkable one-wicket win in a riveting contest on the fourth day of the Headingley Test, effectively keeping the Ashes series alive.
England - battered and bruised amidst the first innings capitulation - fought back and defied the odds to achieve their highest successful run chase in Test matches.
From a woeful 67 all out on the second morning of the third Test to reach the target of 359 with just one wicket remaining, England may well have completed one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of the game.
The hosts' hopes of surmounting the tall target seemed to diminish when they found themselves languishing at 286-9 in the afternoon session before the bespectacled No.11 Jack Leach walked out into the middle and provided sturdy support to World Cup final hero Stokes on the other end.
Leach held his nerve during the unbroken stand of 76 between the two players as Stokes smoothly shifted gears and smoked seven towering sixes to stun the Aussies.
"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," admitted Stokes at the end of England's series-leveling triumph.
Meanwhile, Australia's disciplined fielding unit seemed to crumble under pressure in the crunch moments of the game when a Marcus Harris drop was followed by an unfortunate fumble by Nathan Lyon, who failed to gather a throw and run Leach out.
The winning moment arrived when Stokes thwacked a boundary through the packed off-side field to seal a highly improbable win for England.
Engulfed by the emotions of what just transpired, a euphoric Stokes then broke into a celebratory cheer as he was embraced by Leach surrounded by the noisy Headingley crowd.
"It was a very special feeling. Stokesy was unbelievable. It was like nothing I've ever seen before. And the crowd was insane," said Leach.
Australia captain Tim Paine showed remorse over his team's inability to seize the initiative but lauded Stokes' herculean efforts.
"It's hard to take, losing that from that position but you tip your hat sometimes.
"Ben Stokes played an unbelievable innings and in the end he was too good for us."
Stokes' spellbinding knock featured some adventurous and innovative strokes in addition to the conventional slogs which fetched him maximums.
He produced a dazzling reverse-hit against Nathan Lyon that sailed over the fence at deep point and then opted for an AB de Villiers-esque scoop down fine leg off Pat Cummins for another six.
Stokes brought up the eighth century of his career when he pulled Josh Hazlewood for four despite Paine having planted all his fielders on the boundary line.
That over cost Australia 19 runs as Stokes proceeded to hoick the ball for two sixes.
Australia rapidly ran out of ideas in the face of Stokes' onslaught with Paine resorting to one-over spells from his four-man attack.
Australia squander chances
Growing impatient with England's progress, Australia wasted a review for a ball which clearly pitched outside leg-stump.
The ridiculous review came back to haunt the tourists when Lyon had an lbw appeal against Stokes turned down by umpire Joel Wilson only for the replays to suggest the ball was crashing onto the middle-stump.
This delivery was preceded by an absurd mix-up between Stokes and Leach that should have found the left-arm spinner way short of the popping crease but Lyon fumbled the throw from the fielder.
The botched run-out and the incorrect umpire verdict turned out to be the final nail in the coffin for Australia.
England still needed two for victory when Leach was on strike for a potential six balls to Cummins.
After blocking a couple of deliveries, he managed a single to get off the mark and farmed the strike back to Stokes.
The left-handed batsman, fresh from a match-saving century in the previous game, then cut Cummins for a boundary.
Stokes resumed batting at his overnight score of two from 50 balls on the fourth morning and continued his cautious approach for the opening half-hour.
He was unsettled by a sharp bouncer from Hazlewood which sent his stem guard flying through the air when England were 156-3.
Joe Root's dismissal was followed by a counter-attacking partnership between Stokes and Jonny Bairstow with England accumulating 60 runs in eight overs.
The hosts ran into trouble after lunch when they lost three wickets for 16 runs reeling at 261-7 at one stage.