Moeen Ali hailed another “brilliant” performance by Ben Stokes as he insisted England could still pull off a remarkable Ashes triumph so long as their inspirational captain was involved in the game.
England, 2-0 down with three to play, were in dire straits at 87-5 in reply to Australia’s first-innings 263 on the second day of the third Test at Headingley on Friday.
But Stokes, fresh from his stunning 155 in defeat by Australia at Lord’s last week, struck 80 off 108 balls, including six fours and five sixes, to steer England to 237 all out – just 26 runs behind.
Off-spinner Moeen then took two wickets for two runs in just nine balls as he removed Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith before Australia reached stumps on on 116-4 in their second innings, a lead of 142 runs.
Australia, bidding for a first away Ashes series win in 22 years, still have the upper hand. England fans, however, can at least dream of witnessing a repeat of Stokes’ Headingley heroics of 2019, when his remarkable 135* guided England to an extraordinary one-wicket win over Australia in a celebrated Ashes Test.
But while Moeen warned against an over-reliance on the all-rounder, battling a longstanding left knee problem among several fitness issues, he said: “Ben’s a brilliant player. He’s the one player in the world who everyone will be thinking about in that situation, especially against Australia because he has done it a couple of times now.
“As long as he’s there you’ve always got a great chance of winning. It’s the situations more than anything, he loves those situations, he thrives off them.”
Moeen added: “We can’t rely on him all the time. We do have dangerous players who we just need to come to the party as well as Ben … His body has obviously been through a lot but there’s one thing with Ben, he can’t do anything without it being 100%.”
Moeen is not known for containment but by snaring Labuschagne and Smith he reached 200 Test wickets – only Derek Underwood (297) and Graeme Swann (255) have taken more among England spinners – in an economical return of 2-34 in 17 overs.
His haul came after a finger injury ruled him out of action at Lord’s following his return from Test retirement in the series opener at Edgbaston.
“My finger is fine, it’s sore but I can bowl,” said Moeen. “I’m pleased with the 200 wickets.”
Australia captain Pat Cummins took an impressive 6-91 but the fast bowler could not dismiss Stokes, dropped twice on 45, with his rival skipper falling to the off-spin of Todd Murphy.
“When Stokes is there you are never in total control,” admitted Australia head coach Andrew McDonald, who added: “Full credit to Ben, his way of batting with the tail is probably second to none.
“We have to work out a way to navigate through Ben Stokes in the second innings.”
© Agence France-Presse