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Home ยป The Ashes 2023: Headingley To Stage Another England-Australia Nail-Biter

The Ashes 2023: Headingley To Stage Another England-Australia Nail-Biter

England keep Ashes hopes alive on rain-hit dayAs the gloom turned to late evening sunshine, a pocket of England’s most vocal fans got to their feet.

“Don’t take me home. Please don’t take me home,” they sang.

That song has become an anthem of English sport but some of those supporters would probably stay true to their word – camp out on the famous Western Terrace if they could.

Headingley has another epic in store.

England start well in chase to keep Ashes aliveReaction to day three at HeadingleyThere is something about the Ashes and Sundays.

The finales at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in 2005, Ben Stokes’ epic here in Leeds in 2019 and Lord’s dramatic conclusion last week – was that really just last week? – all happened on the supposed day of rest.

You just know there will be nothing restful about Sunday.

It will be yet another day of squirming in your seat.

That sinking split second as ball passes bat – was that an edge? The cruel wait for a review – please that’s going over, surely it’s going over?

Cricket knows how to put us all through the wringer.

And this series, despite Australia now sitting 10 wickets from their first series victory on these shores for a generation, has refused to let us sit comfortably.

England have pulled off dramatic Ashes victories before at Headingley – in 2019 and 1981The series scoreline may be in danger of turning decisive but the matches have gripped us at every turn, with Saturday’s action – a day crammed into less time than it takes Tom Cruise to complete his latest impossible mission – no different.

Again, with conditions handed to them on a platter after the rain relented, England looked to have taken a stranglehold on the third day with four quick wickets – each a cannonball into the bows of the Australian ship trying to position itself out of England’s reach.

But Travis Head, at the ground he once spent a summer calling home, did his best Ben Stokes impression to ensure none of us will sleep comfortably.

Of course it was Stuart Broad – it’s always Broad in the Ashes – who pumped his legs to end Head’s onslaught, but England’s victory surge had earlier been set up by the man it seemed had been forgotten.

After 15 months out of the side, with serious personal doubts over whether his chance would ever come again, England have called on Chris Woakes in their hour of need in Leeds, with the urn on the line.

And throughout this Test Woakes has proven that the hair may be greyer but – in England at least – he is still as dependable as ever.

Woakes missed the entirety of England’s first Bazball summer, hobbling around and watching on TV after being flogged more than any other England seamer, from Brisbane to Barbados, during the dark winter of 2021-22.

Even before the first Test of this summer against Ireland, Woakes was put up to speak to the media only to be dropped.

But when finally given his chance again, after three wickets in the first innings, he removed Usman Khawaja, Alex Carey and, crucially, Mitchell Marsh in the second – each celebrated with his typical polite enthusiasm.

“I haven’t played in front of a crowd in England for a couple of years, it brings out that emotion in you when you hear that roar,” he said afterwards.

“It’s easy to forget how good it is when you haven’t played for a while.”

Before this Test Woakes pulled Stokes to one side, wanting to ask if he had any advice in his first game under the all-rounder’s captaincy.

“Nah, you just do you,” Stokes told him. “If I change the field don’t worry about it because I just like doing rogue things.”

Thankfully for England, Woakes did just that.

His dismissal of Carey was his 100th in England and, while his struggles overseas have been well-documented, here he is among the best.

Of the 16 others to have taken 100 men’s Test wickets in this country, only the late great Shane Warne has a better average.

Woakes’ injuries last summer meant he missed England’s chases of 378 against India and 277, 299 and 296 against New Zealand – the latter, again, on this ground.

Those stunning pursuits have warped the mind, somehow making this latest target of 251, of which 27 runs have already been knocked off without loss, look strangely manageable.

The history of this series suggests the reality will be anything but.

England must do it all in the knowledge that defeat would end their Ashes hopes and hand Australia their first victory in England since 2001.

“It’s more excitement than nerves,” Woakes said.

“Naturally in a run chase there’s always nerves around. But they are good nerves – the thought of winning the Test, chasing down a score, and keeping yourself in the series.”

Of course England have their 2019 win here to look back on, a game Woakes was a part of.

That day Stokes ended 135 not out and his unlikely batting partner at number 11, Jack Leach, was unbeaten on one.

“If I’m batting number 11, I’ll get one not out and let Stokesy do the rest,” Woakes joked when asked if he was ready for similar.

If there is a repeat by 4pm on Sunday, those in the stands may have to be carried home.

In the meantime, strap yourself in for another Ashes nail-biter.

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