Test cricket – The ultimate format of the game where greats are judged on the basis of their quality. It tests a player to their limits. Five days of intriguing battle. Sweats are broken down. Tensions take over.  The white shirt is tinged with blood, mud and sweat. Adversity pushes one to the limits. Maybe there is no hope – still, a player fights like a gladiator and makes the impossible, possible. At Leeds, we all witnessed a gladiator – Ben Stokes pulled the match out of the fire and steer England home.

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On Day 1, David Warner found some form and Marnus Labuschagne – only in the side because Steven Smith was still suffering the effects of being concussed by Archer – top-scored for Australia for the second time in as many innings. But Archer, playing just his second Test, had the last word, his 6 for 45 putting England on top as England made the most of Joe Root’s decision to bowl first.

Despite the rain and bad light forced a delayed start and long, frustrating stretches without any play at all, there were enough twists and turns amid the action to ensure it was in keeping with the rest of the series so far.

It is all about rhythm. Rhythm matters everywhere. For a singer or musician, it is a must. In life, it is hugely important. Whereas in sports it is a vital cog and in cricket, you can’t but accept its importance. Again, rhythm varies from cricketer to cricketer. For someone like David Warner, rhythm is all about fluency while for someone like Marnus Labuschagne, it is all about getting into the zone like Rahul Dravid or Javed Miandad or Sunil Gavaskar.

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Until the second ball of the fifth over of the day, Warner was kept quiet and made to struggle by his nemesis in this series, Stuart Broad. Broad’s second ball of fifth over was directed at Warner’s pad and immediately he jammed one to onside to get off the mark.

In the seventh over another delivery was directed towards his pads, which resulted in a boundary – Warner rediscovered his lost rhythm.

The England pacers changed the line of attack and rather than pitching it up more towards middle and off, they bowled short and wide – Warner’s rhythm gained stability as runs came thick and fast. He recovered from his lean-patch until Joe Root threw the ball to his new-ball bowlers, Jofra Archer and Broad.

Archer and Broad did not take time to adjust their length – pitched up in and around the offstump and at pace.

Warner was undone by a ripper. Travis Head had no clue. While Matthew Wade failed to prevent the ball from travelling to his stumps and dislodge the bails.

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Within 10 minutes, the Australian recovery was jeopardized by some outstanding display of superb fast bowling.

It was time for Archer and Broad to exhibit their rhythm – pace, movement, and aggression. They all came together as in the span of ten overs, Australia lost their way.

But Labuschagne survived.

For him, rhythm is more about trusting the defence. He was tested outside the offstump consistently, but his authority over his offstump helped him to survive. His innings had been as worthy as gold. He tried his best to hold the innings together as long as he could, and if someone could support him, things might not have gone so poor for Australia.

But when two brilliant fast bowlers are in such a wonderful rhythm, a batting lineup could hardly do anything.

Australia were all out for 179 and on Day 2 it was a nightmare for England on broad daylight.

Well, on Day 2 – it was like a nightmare for England in broad daylight.

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Credit went to Australia’s strike bowlers – led by Josh Hazlewood’s devastating five-wicket haul – for putting Australia in a commendable position.

Back in 1985, at Brisbane, overcast conditions and a bit of grass on the deck prompted New Zealand captain Jeremy Coney to bowl first in the first Test against Australia at Brisbane. Sir Richard Hadlee rolled Australia for 179. Hadlee’s figures were 23.4-4-52-9!

Except a valiant 70 from Kepler Wessels, none of the Australian batsmen had an answer to Hadlee’s nagging line and incisive length.

The next day, Brisbane was blessed with a burst of sunshine. John Reid and Martin Crowe made the Australian bowlers toil hard. They posted 553 for and declared. Hadlee picked 6 in second Australia lost by an innings and 41 runs. New Zealand won their first-ever Test series Downunder.

The scenario was almost the same at Leeds.

Day 2 was bright and sunny like 1985 in Brisbane.

But this time around, the script would be written by the Australian pace attack.

Who’s Josh Hazlewood?

He is not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Oh yes, in the age of social media, he is an alien. He does not talk much. No show-offs. No limelight. But you start to know him better when he runs in with the ball in his hand and hit that line-and-length relentlessly.

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With the deck starting to lose its life by the heat of the sun, England thought of grinding the Australian bowlers, but Hazlewood’s full-length deliveries, which nipped back in and then moved late, left England in tatters. Poor shot selections from Ben Stokes and Joe Denly made things worse for England. They were all out for 67 – their lowest Ashes total since 1948 – with rash shots an all-too-common feature.

There would be no Brisbane 1985, but there had been havoc created by the silent assassin from Australia – who showed, neither the condition nor the deck matters if you keep your line and length right.

Australia looked to capitalize the good work delivered by their bowlers but their prospects didn’t look so great when Warner was out lbw for a duck, dismissed for the fourth time by Broad in six innings this series. Marcus Harris followed soon after and, when Usman Khawaja was out to a loose shot off Woakes, they were 52 for 3, leading by just 164.

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But Travis Head and Labuschagne dug in and it was a long time before Stokes, brought into the attack in the second over after tea, made the breakthrough.

Stokes bowled eight overs straight before he was replaced by Archer but, four balls into the over, Stokes had to finish it when Archer was struck down by cramp. Archer eventually returned to the field, to the delight of the crowd, whose watermelon beach ball he had saved from the clutches of a security guard earlier. But Stokes bowled on and eventually struck again in his 13th full over with the wicket of Wade, caught behind off the glove.

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That prompted Stokes to collapse on the ground, an exhausted grin on his face as his teammates gathered round to congratulate him.

Broad had Paine out amid some confusion over whether it was lbw or a caught, prompting the batsman into a hopeful review. DRS confirmed an edge, to Paine’s obvious displeasure, but Labuschagne remained until the close to leave his side in decent shape.

On Day 3, Australia resumed on 171 for 6 and Labuschagne, who was not out on 53, proceeded to reach 80 and top score for the tourists for the third time in as many innings as he guided them 246 all out.

England’s target was 359!

In reply, England lost their openers cheaply, Rory Burns to a Hazlewood delivery he should have left but which he prodded to David Warner at first slip and Jason Roy to a gem from Pat Cummins which zeroed in on off stump.

Root and Joe Denly – two England batsmen needing big scores as much as any – had dug in and turned the match on its head, a recurring theme in a series that has seen momentum swings , twists and turns throughout. The pair put on a 126-run partnership, Denly reaching his second Test fifty, and Root unbeaten on 75 at the close.

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England’s composure with the bat had been much, much better than the first innings. It was an attritional day of Test cricket where England kept the hopes alive. The circumstances demanded to trust the defence and play with a straight bat as Joe Root and Joe Denly did just that.

Denly was scratchy but his intent to occupy the crease made him a more assured batsman. He survived some close shaves, still, his defence improved as the day progressed. So was Root, who has had a rather quiet series so far.

In the first innings, the English batters opened the face of the bat by angling it towards the onside a bit more while attempting to drive, but this technical glitch was corrected sooner. The face of the bat opened better and defended the ball with much more assurance.

Batting positively does not always mean you have to wear the gung-ho suit and go all guns blazing, but resolve can be termed as a positive batting approach as well if the situation demands such.

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On Day 4, had dared to dream when they resumed on a hot summer’s day at 156 for 3 with Joe Root unbeaten on 75 and Stokes locked and loaded having faced 50 balls for his 2 not out.

The Australian attack, while frustrated on the third afternoon, had kept the pressure on and, with the second new ball due after eight overs on day four, England faced a big task just to navigate the morning, let alone chase down the target.

That became even more unlikely when Root fell, having added just two runs, to a brilliant slips catch from David Warner – his sixth of the match – off the bowling of Lyon in the sixth over of the day.

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Stokes and Jonny Bairstow swung the probability back in England’s favour with a defiant, and threatening, 86-run partnership. Their union was broken when Bairstow, on 36, attempted to cut Josh Hazlewood but guided the ball to Marnus Labuschagne at the second slip.

Stokes had looked like running out of partners. Jos Buttler, initially called through and then sent back by Stokes, was run out to a direct his from Travis Head, Chris Woakes chipped Hazlewood straight to Matthew Wade at short extra cover, Jofra Archer holed out after a brief cameo and Stuart Broad was out lbw to a James Pattinson yorker.

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As Stokes neared his century, Hazlewood – who was one wicket away from claiming 10 for the match – returned to the attack. Stokes proceeded to take 19 off the over, bringing up his ton with a four hammered through wide long-on, and following up with consecutive sixes.

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Stokes was dropped on 116 when he sent a top edge off Pat Cummins towards the third man, where Marcus Harris got his hands to it but couldn’t hold on. Australia then wasted a review – which would come back to haunt them – when Cummins rapped Leach on the pad and the DRS confirmed the ball had pitched well outside leg.

When Stokes just cleared the man on the rope for a six off Nathan Lyon, the crowd went wild and England needed just two more to win.

Two balls later, Leach should have been run out after going for a non-existent single, but Lyon fumbled as he tried to gather the throw from backward point. Stokes should have been out lbw attempting to slog-sweep the very next ball, which was pitching on middle and leg and shown by Hawk-Eye to be hitting the stumps, but with no reviews left, Australia could do nothing.


Note: Input from ESPNcricinfo

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