Cricket: Ben Stokes is England's hero as remarkable innings keeps Ashes hopes alive for Joe Root's men at Headingley

Some hours after Ben Stokes' remarkable innings gave his side a lifeline in the Ashes, and caused heart palpitations for a nation of cricket fans in the process, England captain Joe Root strolled into the press conference room inside the bowels of Headingley and was asked if he could sum up what he had just seen.
England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
England's Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test match at Headingley, Leeds: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

'No' came the response, with a trademark beaming smile that barely left his face for the whole time, and in truth no-one could blame him. It wasn't the case that there weren't the words to explain Stokes' genius, but that there were too many.

Remarkable. Breathtaking. Defining. Amazing. Legendary.

Just a matter of weeks since Stokes' heroics in the World Cup final against New Zealand, he repeated the feat here – and then some.

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England, shamed, humiliated and written-off almost universally after their disastrous first innings saw them bowled out for just 67, produced one of the all-time greatest comebacks in Test cricket, on a ground that has seen a few.

Stokes' part in it will go down in history. Michael Vaughan dubbed his unbeaten 135 the greatest Test innings ever seen and it's hard to argue, considering both the way he played and the conditions he played in. England faced the prospect of either chasing down 359 to win the third Ashes Test, or batting two and a half days to save it. Neither seemed particularly plausible, given what had gone before, and the Ashes seemed to be slipping away.

Not on Stokes' watch, though. As all around him lost their heads, their wickets or in some cases both, he stood firm. Overnight, he was unbeaten on just two; battling to make sure he was still there in the morning, to give his side a chance. Once England were nine down, and the inauspicious, bespectacled figure of Jack Leach didn't as much stride to the crease as shuffle, Stokes flicked the switch.

The record books will show a last-wicket partnership of 76, to which Leach contributed one solitary run. But his contribution was so much more than that, facing 17 pretty hostile deliveries at times to hold up an end and let Stokes flash the bat.

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In 42 balls, Stokes smited 74 precious runs, all over this famous old ground. Nathan Lyon was reverse-swept, over the heads of three fielders, into the Western Terrace. Josh Hazelwood, England's first-innings chief tormentor, disappeared for two sixes in a row.

Like most works of genius, Stokes' innings wasn't without its occasional flaws. More than one shot hung agonisingly in the air for what seemed like a lifetime - Marcus Harris put him down at third man - and Australia could have wrapped up the game twice in consecutive balls, as the tension inside Headingley made the game increasingly fraught.

First, a mix-up between Stokes and Leach saw the latter stranded halfway down the pitch; but Lyon dropped the ball, metaphorically and literally. Then, the next delivery, Stokes was trapped lbw, bang in front; Joel Wilson shook his head, Australia had no reviews. TV replays showed the ball would have smashed into leg stump.

Despair for the tourists, relief for the hosts. And, at 4.20pm, Headingley breathed again; with one run needed, Stokes rocked back and dispatched Pat Cummins through the covers for four.

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Cue bedlam. Over the space of five and a half hours, Stokes made history but, shorter-term, could have altered the momentum of this series, too. England go to Old Trafford for the fourth Test knowing they are still very much in this series, although they'll face a pack of wounded Aussies in Manchester, and perhaps the formidable Steve Smith.

But all that can wait for another day. This was Stokes' afternoon; a day to remember for him, and one that almost 20,000 inside Headingley will never be able to forget.