LEEDS, England (Reuters) - Australian captain Tim Paine admitted that Ben Stokes was simply too good for the visitors as the all-rounder delivered one of the greatest Ashes innings to help England to victory at Headingley that levelled the series.
With England on the ropes at 286-9, still 73 runs short of their target, Australia looked set to take a 2-0 lead in the five-test series and retain the urn with two matches to play.
But England’s World Cup hero Stokes launched a solo attack to score an unbeaten 135 and help the hosts chase down a target of 359 in dramatic fashion.
“We finished up on the wrong side of it. In terms of an advertisement for test cricket, I think that was bloody exciting,” Paine said.
“Ben Stokes played an unbelievable innings and in the end he was too good for us.
“It was probably the best test innings I’ve seen and the rest of the team thought the same thing.”
Australia threatened to take the final wicket for a victory that seemed inevitable on several occasions but failed to get the job done.
With 17 runs needed, Stokes was dropped by Marcus Harris at third man. In the next over, Jack Leach should have been run out, only for Nathan Lyon to fumble the ball.
Stokes should have been adjudged leg before on the very next ball, but with no reviews left, Australia could not challenge the umpire’s call.
Paine said his players were guilty of individual errors in the closing stages of the match but maintained they did not crack under the pressure.
“No doubt there was pressure, that’s test cricket, and it was close, tight, the crowd was loud, that was as hard as it gets for a touring side,” the skipper added.
“Sometimes people make mistakes and we made a couple today.In the end it cost us the test match. We have time now to make sure we stick together, bounce back.”
Australia will look to shake off the disappointment heading into Old Trafford, where top scorer Steve Smith could return after missing the third test due to concussion.
“As I said to the boys before I got in here, if we get caught up in the emotion of it all and get too down on things the series can be taken away from you really quickly,” Paine said.
“The facts are we’ve been in a position to win every test match that we’ve played in so far. We’re doing something right, we have to keep believing in that.”
Writing by Hardik Vyas, editing by Pritha Sarkar