What was a hard-fought but reasonably sedate final day, erupted into controversy and raw emotion when Bairstow wandered out of his crease before over had been called having avoided a bouncer from Cameron Green in the 52nd over with Alex Carey
then throwing down the stumps. Australia appealed and the third umpire upheld the decision with Bairstow well out of his ground.
Only one side has ever come back from two defeats to win the Ashes – Don Bradman’s Australia side of 1936/37, first England have to win the third test which starts on Thursday at Headingley.
In scenes unlike any witnessed at this ground, even in its long history of epic matches, the game was then played out in a febrile atmosphere where Australia were jeered endlessly by a full final-day crowd and MCC members had to reminded about their behaviour after incidents when the players left the field for lunch.
When Bairstow was dismissed, England needed 178. Stokes then unleashed an assault on Australia’s attack, adding 108 in 21 overs with Stuart Broad
, with an innings that included nine sixes. He was given a life on 114 when Steven Smith spilled a chance at deep square leg. This was Headingly 2019
on steroids, if that’s possible. Australia were rattled; England got to a point where they looked favourites.
But straight after the afternoon drinks break Stokes top-edged Josh Hazlewood
into the off side with 70 runs still needed. It was too much for the lower order who succumbed to the short ball, both Ollie Robinson and Broad hooking into the deep. Josh Tongue and James Anderson hung on for a while, briefly teasing the outlandish possibility of a final twist, before Mitchell Starc
got one at leg stump as Tongue gave himself room.
England had started the fifth day needing a distant 257 but Stokes and Ben Duckett
made solid progress as they built a fifth-wicket stand of 132. When play began, all the talk was still of Duckett’s reprieve the night before to Starc’s catch at fine leg
– if only everyone knew what was to come.
Stokes went to his first half-century since the Old Trafford Test
against South Africa last year and Duckett, for the second time in the match, was approaching three-figure when he top-edged a chance to Carey who caught it brilliantly, one-handed above his head, to continue a fine series behind the stumps. However, his main part in the drama was soon to arrive.
Five overs later, mayhem ensued. As he so often does, Bairstow let a ball through to the keeper, tapped his back foot quickly into the crease and immediately walked out of his ground. The ball had barely reached Carey, who gathered and under-armed at the stumps in one motion. Australia immediately celebrated as Stokes and Bairstow converged on the umpires. The third umpire Marais Erasmus
deemed the ball not to have been dead and Pat Cummins
saw no reason to withdraw the appeal.
When Broad joined Stokes in the middle, England’s anger was clear. Broad was in the face of Australia’s fielders from the moment he took guard, while Stokes was obviously fuming but channelled his emotions into one of the most awe-inspiring displays of ball-striking Lord’s has seen.
He tore into Green with three boundaries in an over through the leg side, then in Green’s next over went further with a trio of consecutive sixes, the second of them palmed over the rope by Starc at long leg. He reached his century from 142 balls with the third of them and there was barely a celebration, just a brief raise of the bat in acknowledgement.
The fifty partnership came up in 4.4 overs moments before the players took lunch. Words were exchanged between Broad and David Warner as they walked off the pitch, while footage soon emerged of MCC members in the Long Room confronting Australia’s players. It was later claimed by Cricket Australia that physical contact was made and MCC apologised.
Would the 40-minute break take the sting out the situation? The second ball of the afternoon session was launched over long-on by Stokes and two deliveries later he was spilled by a sprawling Smith who could not gather the top edge. By and large, Stokes tried to farm the strike although occasionally was happy to give Broad a few balls to face, and he joined in the heady atmosphere by pulling Hazlewood through the leg side to end an over where Stokes had already taken two further sixes.
Hazlewood was withdrawn from the attack after a three-over spell which cost 30 as memories of Headingley came flooding back at every turn. Cummins had no frontline spin to turn to after Nathan Lyon’s calf injury
on the second day and opted not to throw to ball to Travis Head.
Stokes took another brace of sixes over the leg side, this time from Starc, before a summit meeting between Australia’s senior players saw Green return to the attack and he bowled two good overs which cost just three.
By now, Australia had nine fielders on the fence to Stokes and the boundaries dried up. Nine runs came in six overs. Hazlewood returned, Stokes swiped across the line and Carey settled under the catch. Australian fielders ran from all corners of the ground. Cummins and Smith gave Stokes an appreciative tap on the back. They had stopped him in the nick of time. The Ashes were within their grasp but the events of the final day at Lord’s are likely to reverberate across both nations for a long time to come.