The Ashes are alive
but the dust must start to settle
Photo: Getty Images

Sunday 25th August - 3:17pm: England fall to 286-9, still requiring an unlikely, almost impossible, 73 to win.

4:17pm: Ben Stokes hits the winning runs, after batting all day, to secure one of the most remarkable Test comebacks in Ashes history.

A national hero?

Since that thrilling moment at Headingley, there is only one name on everybody’s lips: Ben Stokes.

Almost daily, often hourly, since that moment under the vocal backdrop on day four of the Third Test, TV programmes, radio shows and the written press have been drooling over a mammoth innings that saw all-rounder Stokes hit six after six as he mustered every last ounce of energy to force his country over the line.

Where were you? What was your favourite moment? Can you believe what happened?!

It was England’s record Test run chase, pinpointed by many as the greatest response in Ashes history, made even more spell-binding by the fact England were bowled out for a mere 67 in the first innings.

The Ashes are still alive but you could be forgiven for thinking England have already recaptured the urn, such is the furore around this comeback – how that needs to change before Wednesday at Old Trafford.

Once a villain

The build-up will remain centred on Stokes with perhaps a tinge of talk around Jofra Archer as he resumes his battle with Aussie legend Steve Smith, fresh from a 92mph blow to the head but also topping the Test batting rankings. Smith has fuelled the battle by acknowledging that Archer is still yet to dismiss him.

Yet England are in danger of becoming a one-man team, underpinned by the fever around Stokes. This was a player who was made an outcast not so long ago after a certain night, energised by alcohol, saw Stokes grab the headlines for very different reasons. Many were calling for his head but have since expressed the desire to give him the freedom of the country. Contradictory.

Stokes is now on a sporting pedestal with Tyson Fury rather than dropping out of England cricket consideration like Alex Hales who also became an outcast at as similar time. Fair?

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The forgotten moments

In truth, there was much more to England’s Third Test win than just Ben Stokes. Archer’s magical 6-45 limited Australia to 179 in their first innings, before Stokes’ wayward slash in England’s 67 was the worst of the dismissals in a dismal response.

Stokes did, however, rally with the ball, but England faltered again, dropping to 15-2 in their chase of 359. A partnership of 126 by Joe’s Root and Denly was the saving grace to ensure that Stokes’ heroics were improbable rather than impossible.

The comeback will give England momentum but Australia are hardly a side to be phased by such an outcome. Just look at the way Smith has batted under a backdrop of vocal jeers and criticism after the sandpaper scandal.

Australia are likely to come back with pace and aggression – Mitchell Starc is back in the squad with James Pattinson rested – a missed run out, dropped catch and wasted review in that final wicket partnership will only serve to fuel the Australians in their quest to take back the urn.

And they only need one win (or two draws) from the final two matches.

Stand together as one or one standing alone?

Such has been England’s demise in the upper echelons of their batting order that Denly and Jason Roy will swap positions for the Fourth Test. A bold experiment, as is the decision to play Craig Overton for just his fourth Test ahead of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran in the absence of James Anderson.

Expectation will be rife amongst Old Trafford on Wednesday morning but England remain the underdogs to win The Ashes. The home side have to start well if all of the momentum is not going to drizzle out by the lunchtime on the opening day. This time next week, that Stokes innings of 135 could be ultimately worthless in the outcome of the series.

England must stand together as one rather than one standing alone. The dust needs to settle if The Ashes are going to remain alive for another match at least.