In the English summer, the days are long, almost endless.
However, the 2004 edition of the Champions Trophy, ostensibly rounding off a busy summer with a bang, encroached well into the autumn.
By the time the last few moments of drama were enacted in that incredible final, dusk had all but fallen. And West Indies were struggling in the heart of darkness in every possible way.
England were about to sign off a spectacular summer by winning the first major one-day tournament in their history. They had been in the finals of the 1979, 1987 and 1992 World Cups, each time finishing second-best. But this was a summer with their name written all over it.
They had started out beating New Zealand 3-0 in the Tests, followed by another 4-0 whitewash of the West Indians. They had romped through to the final in the tournament, beating their traditional rivals Australia by a healthy 49-run margin at Edgbaston.
Now, West Indies, as had been their lot in the recent times, were staring at a big defeat. They were eight down, miles away from the target.
The two men at the crease had no pretensions with the bat. Courtney Browne had kept wickets since 1995. Even in an era of keepers who could do remarkable things with the bat, he averaged 12.46 with the highest score of 26. Ian Bradshaw, who earlier that day had struck quick blows by getting rid of Vikram Solanki and captain Michael Vaughan, had a career collection of 24 runs at 8.00 with a highest score of 12.
The man who sat padded up was Corey Collymore, whose 21 innings till now had yielded an average of 6.
Between them they needed to make 71 to win.
Steve Harmison was bowling quick, touching 96 mph. Andrew Flintoff had a few overs up his sleeve, and he had already taken three wickets. The batting had been wrecked by these two pacemen. Darren Gough, with all his experience, had several overs left. Paul Collingwood was in the midst of a good spell, having just picked up his second wicket, the huge one of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Alex Wharf was proving nippy and tidy. The light was murky. The Oval wicket was rather bowler friendly.
Champagne bottles were about to be popped in the English dressing room.
It had gone haywire for Brian Lara’s men after the start had promised so much. Lara had asked the English batsmen to take first strike after winning the toss. Bradshaw had struck early, Collymore had kept things tight. The fielding had been brilliant, Andy Strauss had been run out. And then Wavell Hinds had tossed up his part-time off-breaks and accounted for Flintoff, Collingwood and Geriant Jones, the latter two being superbly caught by Lara at short mid-wicket.
Only Marcus Trescothick had batted on, having figured out a way to get runs on this wicket against spirited bowling and fielding. He had been class accompanied by occasional thumping wallops, characteristic of his batsmanship, as he had stroked his way to a peerless 104. Ashley Giles had played a fine hand of 31. But none of the rest had managed to get 20. In the end, 217 had been a rather ordinary total.
But, then, Harmison had struck back, removing Hinds through a superb catch by Solanki, and getting the dangerous Chris Gayle as well. Flintoff had made short work of Ramnaresh Sarwan, by virtue of another great catch, this time by Andrew Strauss. And then he had induced Brian Lara to snick to Jones, leaving West Indies tottering at 72 for 4.
Only Chanderpaul had played a lone hand, but he had lost men at the other end. Vaughan had tried the medium pace of Trescothick for three overs and that had been rewarded by a wicket as well. Everything had been going England’s way.
And when Chanderpaul had tried to turn Collingwood off his toes and the leading edge had been held by the captain at cover, it had seemed all over but for the proverbial shouting.
147 for 8. 71 runs to win. Brown and Bradshaw at the crease. The light murky. The bowling incisive, fast and top-notch. Collymore padded up.
A run later, Wharf charged in and Bradshaw, just managing to get his bat on the ball, almost played on. It was just a matter of time.
And then, suddenly, a miracle started to transpire.
Bradshaw’s outside edge went past the slip to the third man boundary to bring up the 150.
Harmison was called back, and worked up red hot pace. But the batsmen managed to survive. There were plenty of overs that remained, giving the two batsmen the luxury of dabbing the ball around and settling down.
As for Gough, doing his very best at the other end, it was a sad tale of the willing spirit let down by an ageing body. Even the late order batsmen did not have too many difficulties in playing him. The feared yorker to blast out the tail did not materialise.
And suddenly Browne was on the backfoot to Harmison, executing a square drive that would have made Gordon Greenidge proud. The partnership had by now been endowed with something of an irritation quotient.
Gough ran in and tried the yorker. It reached the batsman on the full. Bradshaw punched it past mid on. Solanki’s dive was not enough, and the fielder looked on gingerly. Four more. The West Indians were up to 178. The target down to 40 more. Vaughan was not yet worried, but was getting steadily impatient.
He made Harmison sprint in for his last over. The two batsmen astutely played him out, the over fetching just a single. Harmison finished with 2 for 34 from his ten.
Flintoff had two overs left, and was brought back. A huge appeal for leg before against Browne was disallowed by Rudi Koertzen. The umpire thought there had been a touch. Vaughan and Flintoff shrugged. They were still on top, after all, it was just a matter of time. The over fetched four singles.
The umpires looked skywards, got together to discuss the light. It was offered to the batsmen. They had the option of coming back on the morrow and going on with the game. However, common sense prevailed. For once, the offer was refused. The two men had got into a groove and they decided to bat on. The crowd cheered. So did Lara from the dressing room.
35 needed from 42 balls, and the two best bowlers of England had just one more over between them.
Hence, Collingwood was back. Bradshaw plonked his foot down the pitch and drove him through the off side. It beat mid-off and raced away for four. Two balls later, Collingwood pitched short. And Bradshaw cut him, elegant, very much like a top order batsman. It streaked to the point boundary.
Statisticians of the game were stirred. First-Class records were looked up. It was suddenly divined that three and a half years earlier, an England A side had played in the Busta Cup in the Caribbeans. Bradshaw had led the Barbados side, and scored 109 from No 7 against the visitors. A member of the England A side had been Vikram Solanki. Perhaps that is why he had looked gingerly after the futile dive a while back?
26 required off 36 balls at the end of Collingwood’s over. Flintoff was asked to finish the spell. And cannily, the two men played him out, satisfied with a couple of singles from the over. No rush of adrenaline, no surge in belief in their worth with the willow. It was all common sense and application.
In ran Gough now, spending every ounce of energy in trying to turn the clock back. But, the magic did not kick in. Five runs resulted from the over, including a wide. The required runs were down to 19 from 24 balls. The irritating partnership had fast developed into a match-changing one. They had added more than 50 by now.
For some reason, in spite of the sterling success of Hinds, Vaughan did not use Giles. True, the left-arm spinner had played his part as a batsman, the only man other than Trescothick to amount to something in England’s innings. But the vast experience and ability were limited to running around in the outfield.
For the 47th over, Vaughan threw the ball to Wharf. Bradshaw, now completely settled, pulled the fourth ball wide of mid-on. The resulting single took the score past the psychological threshold of 200.
But the over cost just two. 17 were required from 18. Gough was charging in for one last time. He speared them down, looking for the block hole. He did not quite find the spot. Browne drove him to long off for a run. Bradshaw dabbed the next for another. Then Browne got another … so on till the fifth ball. The final resulted in a dot as Gough finished with a disappointing none for 58 from 10.
Now they needed a run a ball. 12 from 12. Wharf had the ball, he had conceded just 26 from his 9 overs. Browne was on strike, and he was on 28, his highest score.
There was no run off the first. The tall medium pacer nicknamed ‘gangster’ was perhaps the ideal man to bowl in these circumstances.
And then he made the cardinal error. He overstepped. The ball was full and outside the off. Browne drove him to deep extra cover and the batsmen scampered two. So, they got three off the delivery. The pressure had been transferred back to the fielding side. 9 needed from 11 now. Vaughan pressed his lips in disappointment.
Wharf pulled one back with a dot ball of the next. And then he pitched it up, with plenty of room for Browne to free his arms.
The stroke was not quite timed, there was more edge than middle on the ball. But it went screaming down to the deep third man fence. The ground was by now what John Arlott had described in 1975, “seething and leaping with West Indian delight.” At cover Vaughan looked on helplessly and fumed. 5 to win from 9 balls.
Browne pushed the next ball to mid-on and stole a single. Four remained to win from 8. Bradshaw was on strike. England needed the wickets.
And then Wharf erred again, pitching it up with plenty of width. Bradshaw, his batting now tinged with every bit of Calypso cricketing flavour, went down on his knee and drove it square; stylish, elegant, poised, between cover-point and extra-cover. It raced away to the ropes.
In near darkness, West Indies had pulled off a spectacular win.
Bradshaw was still on his knees, punching the air, as Browne ran up to envelope him in an embrace. Then the two ran towards the dressing room. They were stopped halfway, by the euphoric teammates who had come sprinting in. The men from the Caribbean piled up in a mass of jubilant cricketers.
They had every reason to. They had hardly won much in recent years. The islands had been devastated by hurricanes. And they had turned it around in a remarkable match, a climax of a sort never before witnessed in the final of a tournament of such global stature.
England 217 all out in 49.4 overs [max 50] (Marcus Trescothick 104, Ashley Giles 31; Wavell Hinds 3 for 24) lost to West Indies 218 for 8 in 48.5 overs (Shivnarine Chanderpaul 47, Courtney Browne 35*, Ian Bradshaw 34*; Andrew Flintoff 3 for 28) by 2 wickets with 7 balls remaining.