Ben Stokes survives having his stumps clipped to lead England fightback
Ben Stokes survived a remarkable slice of luck as he and Jonny Bairstow led England’s fightback following their latest top-order surrender in the fourth Ashes Test.
The tourists appeared to be hurtling towards yet another batting debacle when the pair came together at 36 for four – Australia’s seamers dismantling their opponents with ruthless efficiency – but a wicketless second session allowed to reach 135 without further loss.
Stokes, popping painkillers as he battled a side injury sustained while bowling, should have been the fifth man down for just 16 when he offered no shot to Cameron Green and saw his off stump clipped at more than 83mph.
But, to Australia’s amazement and Stokes’ amusement, the bail stubbornly refused to move despite the ball visibly deflecting off the timber. Buoyed by his outrageous fortune, Stokes let loose with his natural attacking instincts and reached 52 not out alongside the increasingly fluent Bairstow, who moved through the gears to an unbeaten 45.
Between them they began erasing the memories of dire start to the innings, but with England still trailing by 281 runs there is plenty of hard work ahead.
Earlier, Australia had stitched together a mesmeric sequence of 70 consecutive dot balls either side of lunch, a dominant spell of precise seam bowling led by Scott Boland and containing the wickets of Zak Crawley, Joe Root for a duck and Dawid Malan.
Opener Haseeb Hameed had been the first to fall as he continued a desperate tour that could send his international career back into hibernation. He nicked his third ball of the day from Mitchell Starc only for wicketkeeper Alex Carey to dive in front first slip and spill the chance.
Two balls later he punched a boundary through point but it was a momentary respite as Starc went back to business at his next visit, smashing Hameed’s stumps for six as he aimed a ragged drive down the ground.
Crawley, who had been caught off a no-ball on the first evening, was also worked over. He offered a tough chance at short-leg on seven and dropped the bat in pain when Starc crushed his fingers against the handle.
He got in a couple of blows to reach 18 but echoed Hameed’s dismissal when he was cleaned up between bat and pad by the relentless Starc.
The change of bowling offered England no joy whatsoever, with Boland and Cameron Green only cranking up the pressure even further as they failed to concede a single run in 7.5 overs before lunch.
Boland got the prize scalp of Root, who threw his hands at one that was too tight to attack and sent a fizzing catch to the alert Steve Smith at second slip. Malan spent more than an hour at the crease but never mastered the unpredictable bounce, wearing two heavy blows on the hands before flicking Green to the waiting catcher at leg slip.
The long scoreless streak had occupied 53 balls before the interval and 17 after it, ending only when Stokes’s thick edge off Boland squirmed away for a single.
Stokes’s misjudged leave should have ended his innings but from the moment he bellowed with laughter at the replays, things took on a different tone. The ball was still doing all sorts, hitting both men on the body and gloves, but Stokes threw caution to the wind with a series of strikes over the infield.
Three boundaries in as many balls from Starc brought up the fifty stand – unimagined riches at the start of the session – but a hearty pull shot left him clasping his ribs in pain.
Bairstow warmed up to pull his share of the load, playing spinner Nathan Lyon with real confidence as he drove, cut and swept him off his length.
By the time play broke up again, they had added 99 to total and lifted the palour of gloom.
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