Ben Stokes gave Australia’s Steve Smith a potentially match-changing reprieve after early wickets revived England’s hopes of a series-levelling win on the last day of the final Ashes Test at The Oval on Monday. Australia were 238-3 at lunch, needing 146 more runs to reach a mammoth target of 384 runs, with rain threatening to intervene. Smith, then on 39, gloved off-spinner Moeen Ali onto his thigh in the last over before lunch. The ball looped to England captain Stokes at leg gully, who grabbed it one-handed above his head. But as his arm came down, his hand clipped his leg and he dropped the ball. Star batsman Smith was initially given not out and an England review confirmed Stokes’s error.
At lunch Smith, averaging over 93 at The Oval, was 40 not out and Travis Head unbeaten on 31.
Earlier, Chris Woakes removed Australia openers David Warner and Usman Khawaja in a dramatic burst of two wickets for one run in seven balls on an overcast morning and with a pitch freshened by rain — classic English conditions for swing and seam bowling.
Australia, bidding for a first Ashes series win in England since 2001, resumed on 135-0. Warner was 58 not and Khawaja 69 not out.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 31, 2023
England pace great Stuart Broad, who on Saturday made a shock announcement he would retire after the match, took up the attack as the 37-year-old sought to dismiss Warner for the 18th time in Tests.
But it was Woakes who made the breakthrough England desperately needed when a good-length ball, angled across Warner, nipped off the seam and took the outside edge to give wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow a simple catch.
Warner was out for 60 and it was not long before Khawaja, the leading run-scorer in the series, followed him.
Khawaja was lbw to Woakes for 72 after being caught on the crease in front of middle and leg stumps by a full-length delivery.
Wood then squared up Labuschagne with an 86 mph (139 kph) delivery that angled in and swung away to take the edge, with Zak Crawley, moving smartly to his left, holding a fine low catch at second slip.
Smith drove Woakes commandingly through the covers for four before left-hander Head clipped Broad, who repeatedly beat the outside edge, through midwicket for a well-timed boundary.
If Australia reach their target it will be the eighth-highest fourth-innings total to win any Test and the second-highest in England, behind Australia’s 404-3 at Headingley in 1948.
It would also be a new ground record — the highest successful fourth-innings chase in a Test at The Oval is England’s 263-9 against Australia way back in 1902.
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