Ashes 2019: Devoted Headingley crowd played their part in cricket history
The stadium was reverberating with thunderous applause and cheers, it seemed as if Harry Kane has scored a World Cup-winning goal for England, but it was just Jack Leach surviving his first ball in the second innings against Australia at Headingley.
England needed 76 runs to win with just one wicket remaining, and every ball survived or scored off was celebrated like a World Cup win. The crowd were into it, Test matches are supposed to be boring aren't they? Five days of non-stop cricket should put you to sleep, but tell that to the Headingley crowd who were as animated as ever.
We thought that the World Cup would never be topped, but what we saw from Ben Stokes on the culminating day of this dramatic Test was miraculous, batting which was out of this world in the toughest of circumstances. Stokes deserves tons of credit, but don't forget the fans; they were right in the thick of the action. They never gave up and it was they who gave the home team a lift whenever crisis loomed large.
Never gave up
When your team gets bowled out for 67 runs, more than not you would skip the rest of the match in anticipation of an embarrassing loss. Not these fans at Leeds though, they never give up, and whether it is false hope or optimism or anything else, they made their voice heard and impacted the match.
As an Australian, fielding at the boundary while Ben Stokes is hammering the ball, you must feel the nerves. On top of that you have the crowd on your back constantly making noise, it surely makes you nervous. In football, home-crowd advantage is a huge thing, especially in European ties and in Headingley the Ashes atmosphere was no less than a Champions League semi-final at Anfield.
76 runs to get with one wicket in hand against a lethal Australian attack was always going to be next to impossible but with a combination of genius batting, luck and a vocal crowd England managed to complete 'mission impossible'. Let's not forget Jack Leach's contribution, he faced a mere 17 balls scoring just one run, but that will be the most important run of his life.
The way Leach was applauded when he got off the mark was almost as if he scored a 200 in a World Cup final, but such was the importance of that run. The Ashes were on the line, the urn was heading back to Australia, at the back of their minds everyone knew it. But if you were at Headingley, the positivity in that crowd just made it seem that there was no way England were losing that game.
Yes it was a Sunday, a holiday for most people, but in this day and age people make the excuse of not "having the time" as they are busy in their lives. The Headingley crowd made no such excuses, they came out in numbers despite the fact that the Ashes was slipping away from their team and, in the end, it was their support that contributed to the miracle win.
Headingley showed us that the fans add to the drama and excitement of a cricket game and their emotions and energy are what drives the game.
Nothing to take away from Ben Stokes, he is a superhero, twice in the space of two months he's done something not even dreamt of by mere mortals. If that World Cup final made him a hero, this Ashes Test match has made him a Batmanesque superhero who will never be forgotten. Forget the averages, forget the numbers, its moments like these that people never forget and Stokes has cemented his name in history. Marvel would struggle to create a script like this, after what Ben Stokes has gone through and achieved in the last few years is no less than a Hollywood Blockbuster.
At the end of the game, the entire Western terrace at Headingley took of their shoes and chanted "shoes off if you love Ben Stokes." It was a footballesque atmosphere and the game has impacted so many in England that the score was also announced during a English Premier League match in London. Steve Bruce, the manager of Newcastle United, dedicated half of his post-match press conference after beating Tottenham, to Ben Stokes. He even stated that Stokes is more than welcome to come and play centre forward for Newcastle next week. Such is the impact of cricket currently, it started with the World Cup and now the Ashes is continuing to attract audiences worldwide.
The Headingley Test was an excellent advert for the longer format of the game and credit goes to the curator and ground-staff who prepared the perfect pitch for Test cricket.
This Test match will always be remembered, first for Ben Stokes then for the crowd at Headingley who believed when no one else did. Here's to more inspiring Test matches.
Also read - Ashes Most Centuries