Ben Stokes
England's Ben Stokes in action during the fifth Ashes Test.

During the fifth Ashes Test, Steve Smith was given a huge reprieve when Ben Stokes bizarrely lost his catch.

After early wickets rekindled England’s hopes of a series-leveling triumph on the final day of the final Ashes Test at The Oval on Monday, Ben Stokes offered Australia’s Steve Smith a potentially game-changing reprieve. At lunch, Australia was 238-3, with 146 runs still needed to accomplish their massive target of 384 runs with rain on the horizon. When Smith was at number 39, in the final over before lunch, he gloved off-spinner Moeen Ali onto his leg. At leg gully, England’s captain Stokes caught the ball in the air with one hand. The ball would have stayed in his hand had his hand not clipped his leg on the way down. England’s review confirmed the umpire’s mistake after the star batsman Smith was initially ruled not out.

At lunch, Smith was 40 not out and Travis Head was not out for 31; Smith had a career average of almost 93 at The Oval.

A cloudy morning and a surface freshened by rain are typical English conditions for swing and seam bowling, and Chris Woakes made quick work of Australia’s openers David Warner and Usman Khawaja with two wickets for one run in seven balls.

Write quickly Australia, who have already won the Ashes 2-1, were reduced to 169-3 when Mark Wood caught Marnus Labuschagne in the slips for 13.

Australia, looking to win the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001, resumed their innings at 135-0. Warner was at 58 not out, while Khawaja was at 69.

In an effort to get Warner out for the 18th time in Tests, England’s renowned pace bowler Stuart Broad, who made the shocking revelation on Saturday that he will retire after the match, went on the offensive.

A good-length ball from Woakes slanted over Warner nicked off the seam and grabbed the outside edge, giving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow an easy catch. This was the breakthrough England so desperately needed.

Warner was dismissed for 60, and the series’ leading run-scorer, Khawaja, soon followed.

Khawaja was out for 72 when he was bowled by Woakes lbw with a full-length delivery while standing on the crease between the middle and leg stumps.

Then, Zak Crawley, darting nimbly to his left, held a wonderful low catch at second slip off Wood’s 86 mph (139 kph) ball that squared up Labuschagne and took the edge.

With authority, Smith blasted Woakes through the covers for four, and then Head, bowling to the left side, nicked Broad through midwicket for a timely boundary.

If Australia scores the necessary runs in the fourth inning to win the Test, it will be the second-highest fourth-innings total to win a Test in England, behind only Australia’s 404-3 at Headingley in 1948.

The previous best fourth-innings chase in a Test at The Oval was England’s 263-9 against Australia in 1902. If they were to beat that, it would be a new ground record.


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