Big-hitting Head sets up tantalising Ashes test finale
All eyes will be on England skipper Ben Stokes
Australia’s Travis Head swings at a short ball on day three of the third Ashes cricket Test at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, northern England on July 8, 2023. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A superb 77 from Travis Head in difficult conditions steered Australia to 224 all out in their second innings, setting England 251 to win the third Ashes test, with the hosts closing a rain-delayed day three on 27-0 in pursuit of that target.
Play did not get underway until well into the Leeds Saturday (8) evening but when the action started, Australian wickets fell quickly to raise England hopes of ensuring their target would be more than reachable.
Head had other ideas, however. After a conservative start, the versatile batter hammered 10 boundaries, including three sixes, in a thrilling innings against hostile bowling to give Australia hope of retaining the Ashes with two matches to spare.
He was the last man out, giving Australia five overs to get at England before stumps, but despite some near misses, openers Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley survived to set things up nicely for a dramatic finale in a test the hosts must win.
“I had to battle through it today for periods and put some pressure on them at the end,” Head said. “We are in a position to win this test match, so you take it.
“I just tried to hit targets and not be predictable. We worked through it well. I don’t think you can compare me to (Ben) Stokes.
“We know how they are going to attack things but we have to stay true to how we bowl. Headingley does weird things but hopefully there will be some clouds tomorrow and we can get the ball swinging around a bit. There is a lot on the table.”
All eyes will be on England skipper Stokes even before he comes out to bat on Sunday, four years on from one of the most remarkable innings in test cricket history when a 135 not out, on the same ground, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for England over Australia.
Stokes also made an incredible 155 at Lord’s in the last test, before dragging England to a respectable total in the first innings at Headingley with a big-hitting 80, despite visibly struggling with injury.
It would be timely for Stokes to perform more heroics, given England’s predicament in the series.
“We don’t want to be relying on Ben all the time, we want to perform all the way down the batting line-up,” England all-rounder Chris Woakes said.
“Although he is superhuman, he cannot do it every time. He is a world-class player but, one to 11, we all need to help.”