We have had the Eden Gardens classic between India and Australia in 2001, the Edgbaston Ashes thriller of 2005, the Sharjah triumph of Pakistan over Sri Lanka in 2014, the magnificent stalemate between India and South Africa at Johannesburg in 2013 and even the penultimate ball triumph of Sri Lanka at this very Headingley in 2014.
However, this remarkable triumph of West Indies definitely surely ranks with one of the best Test matches of the century. More so because it arrived in the aftermath of the abject capitulation in the first Test.
A Test of twists, turns and tensions, ending in a win for the Windies, is perhaps one of the most extraordinary and impactful results in the recent history of the game.
In one of the immortal phases of poetic symbolism that marks the noble game, a crucial period of the Caribbean pursuit on the final day was engineered by two men going by the names Hope and Chase.
Yes, it was indeed a pressing period of play. Kraig Braithwaite had just departed after scoring 95, having added 144 with Shai Hope in a partnership that turned the match for the umpteenth time. Braithwaite, who had essayed 134 in the first innings, thus missed his second century of the match. And given the track record of West Indies, and the general trend of big chases, there was every possibility of all the good work being undone with the end of the association, with one wicket paving the way for several quick ones.
But, Hope held firm, and Chase rallied valiantly. Finally, Jermaine Blackwood pulled his weight with the willow, along with associated eccentricity that was perhaps necessary. And Hope, who had batted through 21 Test innings before this match with an average of 18.61 and one solitary 50 to his credit, scripted indelible history by scoring his second hundred of the match.
It was brilliant Barbadian batting, from both Braithwaite and Hope, reminding one of the halcyon days when the island had produced greatness by the lot. Hope, in a classic culmination of his blessed last name, guided West Indies to the victory with five wickets and 4.4 overs to spare. And so doing, he became the first ever batsman to score two hundreds in the same First-Class match on this historic ground.
It is Headingley. A ground that has seen Don Bradman score 2 triple hundreds. A ground where Herbert Sutcliffe strode out on 61 occasions. A ground where Len Hutton played 42 times. Where Geoffrey Boycott took part in 59 matches. None of these men managed the feat of two centuries in a match. The 23-year-old Hope did so in his 12th Test match.
It is indeed a moment of Hope in the story of West Indian cricket. Resurgent Hope.
It was just their third overseas Test victory (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) since the triumph over England in 2000. Right after calls for their demotion from Test stature reached a crescendo after the insipid showing in the first match of the series, they have demonstrated that they could still be a real force in the game.
Besides, the young Barbadian pair did show that the islands still had enough resources to stand up and be counted in red ball cricket. Something that fans of Test cricket and romantics of the West Indian past had been yearning for.
They were indeed helped by some ordinary English effort with the ball. Apart from Stuart Broad, and James Anderson in patches, none of the bowlers looked impressive. Moeen Ali, in particular, was off-colour and flat on the fifth day track, and seldom flighted the ball. Chances were missed as well, with catching being sloppy throughout the match for both sides. When Alastair Cook drops a couple in a day, it is a sign of trouble.
Yet, nothing can be taken away from the superb effort of the young batsmen. Braithwaite and Hope turned the tables, taking the game by the scruff of the neck. In the final session Hope and Chase countered reverse swing, and later Hope negotiated the loss of Chase and also the English attempt to play for a draw. In the final stages, they also fought off Joe Root’s last throw of the dice, the second new ball with 56 needed off 16 overs. Blackwood countered by launching Anderson for a straight six. It was the very way that the cricketers of the Caribbean had once made their statements.
The triumph, against the run of recent times, and Hope’s spectacular statistical achievements that were denied to the likes of Sutcliffe, Hutton and Boycott, do hark at a brighter future for the game. The West Indians have won, and their young batsmen have shown they can stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best.
August 29, 2017, should go down as one of the epochal days in the history of the game.