It was impossible not to draw comparisons to Headingley 2019 during Ben Stokes’ formidable innings at Lord’s on Sunday afternoon.
England’s captain rattled the Australians on an emotional day five at St John’s Wood, threatening to repeat his unforgettable Ashes heroics from four years earlier.
Cheered on by the enchanted London crowd, Stokes cleared the boundary rope nine times during his 214-ball knock, breaking his own record for most sixes in an Ashes innings. He finished with 155, the highest fourth-innings Test score at Lord’s since 1984.
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England’s chances of victory were close to nil when Stokes walked to the crease on Saturday evening, but the Durham all-rounder somehow managed to put the hosts within touching distance of a miraculous win.
Whether it’s a World Cup final or an Ashes run chase, nobody delivers in the clutch moments quite like him.
“Stokesy gave us some heart-stopping moments,” Australian captain Pat Cummins confessed in the post-match press conference.
“Having a world-class player at the top of his game in Ben, you start thinking the boundary is small and that there is not much in the pitch.”
Australia ultimately escaped with a gritty, albeit unconvincing 43-run victory, finally vanquishing their Headingley demons — but Stokes gave the visitors an almighty scare.
“There was a bit of deja vu there, for sure,” Player of the Match Steve Smith said.
“He’s an unbelievable player … he’s a freak.
“The way he went about, he was pretty much targeting that one side. He was smacking them down the hill.
“We’ve seen it numerous times in different formats of the game chasing totals the way he gets it done … it was just an incredible knock.”
Boos erupt post controversial dismssal | 00:38
Stokes was unbeaten on 29 when England resumed on Sunday morning, with the hosts needing a further 257 runs for victory.
Mitchell Starc unearthed some early swing on day five, producing a gorgeous yorker in the 38th over that slammed into Stokes’ foot. Umpire Ahsan Raza awarded the LBW dismissal, but the decision was overturned on review after replays showed a thick inside edge.
Australia revisited the short-ball strategy once the Dukes ball stopped swinging, but the quicks weren’t getting any assistance from the low-bouncing pitch — Stokes and England opener Ben Duckett comfortably survived the first hour, combining for a century partnership.
Stokes, who had been uncharacteristically patient the previous evening, reached fifty in 99 deliveries, his first Test half-century since August last year.
Duckett’s dismissal after the drinks break brought Jonny Bairstow, England’s last recognised batter, to the crease — but Stokes’ mentality shifted dramatically after Alex Carey’s controversial stumping.
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Stokes, who was on 62 at the time, flipped a switch after Bairstow’s departure. He absorbed the adrenaline and rage, funnelling it into his batting.
The 32-year-old threw his bat, literally, after attempting to smack Cameron Green’s bouncer barrage in the 54th over, sheepishly retrieving the willow from square leg. Unfazed by the blunder, he finished the over by muscling three pull shots towards the boundary.
Stokes was officially in T20 mode — he brought up his 13th Test century with three consecutive sixes against Green, briefly acknowledging the raucous crowd before taking his guard. There was still work to do.
Three 6’s straight see Stokes ton! | 00:29
Australia started to panic — a misfield from Josh Hazlewood was quickly followed by Starc’s dropped chance at deep fine leg. The seventh-wicket partnership ticked past fifty, of which Stuart Broad contributed one solitary run.
After the lunch break, Stokes signalled his intent by slapping Hazlewood back over his head for six, arguably the shot of the match.
Eventually, the mistake came — in the 58th over, Stokes skied a Hazlewood bouncer towards deep square leg, with Smith settling under the regulation chance. Yet somehow, one of the most reliable fielders in modern cricket bottled the catch, gifting Stokes a life on 114.
“I was feeling it for a while there,” Smith said of his missed chance.
“I didn’t pick it up initially — it’s quite difficult square of the wicket here when he’s going hard.”
Smith GIFTS Stokes a life with drop | 00:38
The Australians were rattled — there was no variation from their bowlers and little initiative from their captain. They were seemingly waiting for Stokes to make a mistake rather than actively manufacturing a breakthrough.
“The wheels are coming off here for Australia,” former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports commentary.
“After Headingley four years ago, they were made to watch the last session again … what have they learnt that they need to do here?”
Nine fielders were placed on the boundary rope for Stokes, forcing the England captain to strategically farm the strike to keep Broad at the non-striker’s end. He was unfazed when Starc returned to the attack, creaming the left-hander over square leg for back-to-back sixes.
The tempo slowed as Australia’s fatigued bowlers adjusted their lengths, but Stokes and Broad continued chipping away at the deficit.
Stokes passed 150, the target dropped under 100, the seventh-wicket partnership reached triple figures — every run was met with applause from the captivated crowd. Flashbacks of Headingley would have been flickering through Cummins’ mind.
However, England’s hopes were crushed in the 73rd over when Stokes top-edged a length delivery from Hazlewood, with Carey swallowing the skied chance. The Bendemeer Bullet threw his arms up, closed his eyes and exhaled with relief.
Stokes bent over and dropped his head in frustration. He stayed there for a moment, ruminating before begrudgingly returning to his feet.
Smith was the first to congratulate him, immediately followed by Cummins. The entire Lord’s crowd was already on their feet, applauding the warrior as he slowly trudged off the hallowed turf.
He couldn’t pull off Headingley 2.0, but Sunday’s belligerent knock will go down as one of the great Ashes performances in a losing cause.
“(Stokes) is a freak of a player, makes things happen and writes his own scripts, but I look at him more as our captain, our leader,” England coach Brendon McCullum told Sky Sports.
“The conviction he has on the journey we want to go on, his faith in the players, the ability to get the best out of them, and the ways he carries himself with his morals, we are so lucky to have him.
“That’s why we head into the third Test with a chance, because of his leadership.”