(fashion) The emotion, the excitement and breath-taking drama of this summer’s cricket is something we will remember for the rest of our lives.
How could anyone who saw that brilliant innings from Ben Stokes against Australia a week ago ever forget it?
It was simply incredible, although — despite the predicament we were in when Jack Leach joined him at the crease — we genuinely never lost belief.
Ben Stokes' innings that sealed third Ashes Test win over Australia will not be forgotten
One thing I would say about this team under Joe Root’s leadership is that we have a solution-based mindset — when we encounter problems we look for solutions. Put simply, we needed to find a way to win.
Back in Ian Botham’s Ashes of 1981, England were 500-1 to win the equivalent match at Headingley. We arrived at Headingley on what would be the final morning with the odds at 5-1. Neil Fairbrother mentioned to a few of us on text that we were not out of the game, and, in fact, had 100 times more chance of winning.
Also, the reason we bowled first after winning the toss was because we felt pitches in Leeds get flatter. We all played in a Test match against West Indies there two years ago in which they not only chased 322 to win, they cruised it.
Nevertheless, taking my pads off, I felt so deflated. I’d wanted to make an impact on the game and was back in the pavilion within two minutes. Nine down with 73 runs needed, the belief was hanging by a thread. Or so you would think.
It was frustrating to be dismissed lbw after just two minutes with the series on the line
But I sat down next to Jos Buttler and Joe Root, who had gone through a similar experience in the World Cup final, and collective belief in Ben never wavered. Whenever his name was mentioned, it was like ‘this bloke can do anything’.
As the minutes ticked by, there were the usual dressing-room discussions about what shots were on for Ben, where his boundary options might be, although it quickly got to the stage where people were concluding this was actually academic as he was in the kind of mode to hit the ball anywhere he wanted.
‘Anywhere he wanted’ was hard actually hard for us as team-mates to pick out because of the characteristics of our vantage point.
Headingley’s home dressing room offers a rectangular glass window to look out of but it’s rather like being in a World War Two tank. Your peripheral vision is very restricted (not that I’ve been in many tanks!).
So every time the ball was struck in the air, we thought: ‘Oh God, where’s that gone?’ Recall your own emotions of watching this passage of play and then think about only knowing half the story all the time.
It was apparent the all-rounder was in the sort of mood where he could hit the ball anywhere
Everyone was adopting their own little habits. Joe would sit down for the ball, stand up when it was bowled, walk around in a little circle, check the field and then sit back down when the bowler started up for his next delivery. Every single ball.
I stared at the same bit of floor in between balls, having done so once and convinced myself it would be lucky to keep doing so.
Superstitiously slipping into idiosyncratic routines like this isn’t a new thing in times like this, of course. Alastair Cook had a lucky tennis ball he used to bounce.
But the drama of it... bloody hell. I am not a religious person at all, don’t believe in God particularly, but I am convinced something’s been looking over English cricket this summer because that World Cup final and the one-wicket win in the third Ashes Test have been something else.
It was always very quiet until the ball was played. Then noise filled the room. One of the Ben hits to long-off, none of is could quite see. I turned to Jos, who was in the corner, and from about an inch away screamed in his face: ‘It’s gone for six, it’s gone for six!’
We were all having to help each other out if we saw where the ball had gone. The delivery before Ben was dropped at third man by Marcus Harris, he’d pulled one to midwicket.
The players in the dressing room were sometimes left unsighted by Stokes' huge hits
At first I couldn’t see what part of the ground it had gone to. Then, I thought David Warner had caught it. Again I was shouting: ‘Where is it? Where is it?’ I knew when Rooty started celebrating next to me.
I would like to have been a fly on the wall in that viewing area because I can’t describe what the emotions were like. After the World Cup final, I spoke to Ben on the cricket podcast I make with Stephen Fry and he said that part of him had wished he was watching because being in the middle he didn’t get the same experience. I now know what he means.
That last few minutes were crazy. Jack Leach basically shook hands with Ben at the striker’s end as, with two runs to win, Nathan Lyon dropped the ball for the run out. Next delivery was the LBW shout.
Ben Stokes was hit on the pad and DRS showed up three reds which would have been out
I do not believe, and no one will ever be able to convince me, that the three reds should have showed up on DRS.
I have seen that kind of tension before: the Cardiff Ashes Test of 2009, hanging on in South Africa twice with Graham Onions at the crease the following winter. But these feelings were different because of the situation.
We had to win the game to stay in the Ashes. If we’d lost, the next two Tests would have been heartbreaking. So it had all the drama of the others, with hope weaved into the story.
That hope only accentuated the emotions for us. It was hardly less so