'Pure village-green slogging'
It was the most famous turnaround in the history of Test cricket, but for the man who instigated it, the depths from which he had to return were deeper even than those of his team. Ian Botham was the golden boy of English cricket - the fastest bowler to reach 100 Test wickets, and the fastest allrounder to do the 1000 runs/100 wickets double. But by the time the third Test at Headingley got underway in July 1981, his crown had become a touch tarnished.
Ten days earlier at Lord's, Botham's brief reign as England captain had come to the most ignominious of ends. He made a pair in a drawn Test that maintained England's 1-0 deficit in the series, and subsequently resigned from his post only moments before he was pushed by the selectors. Mike Brearley was recalled as the team attempted to regroup at Leeds, but for the first three days of the match his Midas touch was sadly lacking.
In dank and dismal Yorkshire weather, Australia used up most of the first two days to post a decent total of 401 for 9 declared. John Dyson was the mainstay of their innings with his maiden Test century, an innings that set his side up perfectly when England collapsed to 174 all out on a rain-truncated third day - a day that was nonetheless long enough for Graham Gooch to be dismissed twice for a total of two runs.
The following day, they slumped to 135 for 7 in the follow-on, still 92 runs adrift, whereupon Ladbrokes offered odds of 500 to 1 against an England win. They forgot, however, to take into account one key factor. Botham was working his way back to form. He had stealthily picked up 6 for 95 in Australia's first innings, his first five-wicket haul for 12 Tests and 18 months, while his first-innings 50 was his highest score for more than a year.
The catalyst for England 's turnaround, however, was the young fast bowler, Graham Dilley, who joined Botham at the crease with the intention of having some fun. In a partnership that was later described by Brearley as "pure village-green slogging", Dilley and Botham transformed the tempo of the game, carving all the bowlers, not least an apoplectic Dennis Lillee, to all corners of Headingley.
They added 117 in just 80 minutes to wipe off the deficit, with Dilley contributing a brilliant 56 from 75 balls with nine glorious fours. Botham, meanwhile, opened his shoulders to mesmeric effort, carving 27 fours and a six in his 148-ball onslaught. He added 67 priceless runs with Chris Old and 37 with the last man, Bob Willis, whose contribution was a mere 2 from nine balls.
The buzz around Leeds at the close of the fourth day was astonishing, as England anticipated something improbable was in the air. Australia were left needing just 130 for victory, but Botham, once again, was on hand with the new ball, removing Graeme Wood for just 10 to increase the jitters in the Aussie dressing-room.
After that, however, England 's effort seemed to go flat. Willis, who started the innings with a spate of no-balls as he ran uphill and into the wind, was switched to the Kirkstall Lane End by the master tactician Brearley, and bounded in as if possessed. From 56 for 1 Australia lost three wickets for two runs, before the crucial figure of Allan Border was toppled for a duck by Old.
Willis soon resumed centre stage with the most focussed and hostile spell of his career, and at 75 for 8 there was only one winner. Ray Bright and Lillee, however, had other ideas, adding 35 in even time to swing the match back in Australia's favour. But Mike Gatting dived forward at mid-on to cling onto a low chance from Lillee, and Willis sealed the deal in emphatic fashion by demolishing Bright's middle stump.
England had won by 18 runs, becoming only the second side to do so after being asked to follow on. And for Botham, who followed up with brilliant encores at Edgbaston and Old Trafford, a legend had been born.
What he said - Ian Botham
"It was full of inside-edges and balls flying all over the place, but any time you beat Australia is a great moment."
How the media reported it
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack said the match "ended in a way to stretch the bounds of logic and belief." "It was the greatest reversal ever seen in a Test match," wrote Wisden Cricket Monthly. And all newspapers were united: Botham was God.
Like Edgbaston 2005, this was a match that - without exaggeration - kept English cricket alive. It reinvigorated public interest to such an extent that even now, 26 years later, people are still talking about it, and it turned Botham into one of the biggest icons of British sport. It can also be said that it set English cricket back by 20 years as well, for it was widely assumed that inspiration, not perspiration, was the root of future success.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo