By Paul Edwards
There are some moments in life which are so intense, so crammed with experiences, that it takes a little time before they can be fully comprehended. Only when one reflects can one make order out of the chaos, however glorious that chaos might have been. Around a week ago, sitting in a hotel room in Scarborough, I wrote this:
A cricket ground without people is nothing more than concrete and metal, wood and glass, plastic and turf. You might admire the architecture or the construction but the soul of the place will elude you if you are not stirred by what has happened there.
I do not claim the slightest prescience. Nevertheless, over the last hour of the Headingley Test yesterday afternoon – Jack Leach batted for exactly sixty minutes, by the way – I saw people stirred to heights of emotion I had never thought to witness on a cricket ground. There were experienced journalists with their hands on their heads in astonishment; there was Nathan Lyon on the ground in despair; and there was the Western Terrace, a riot of movement and joy such as it has never managed before, even during a T20 Roses match. And all this on a great old ground which was wearing new clothes and winking at history as if to remind us all that an Ashes Test at Headingley is almost always something very special.
Even those who had watched the game in 1981 admitted this was something different. There were only about 5,000 spectators in the ground when Ian Botham and Bob Willis turned that match around and their transformation took something like a day to achieve. Ben Stokes managed it in the final hour of a 330-minute innings in front of a near-as-dammit full house which cheered every single and savoured each of Jack Leach’s blocks. Commentators who had watched every ball of the 2005 Ashes series agreed that this atmosphere was unlike any they had known. Again I returned to my piece about Headingley a week ago and wondered what benevolent spirit might have been guiding my thoughts.