Butcher's century leads England to remarkable victory
Just past the 20th anniversary of Ian Botham's extraordinary match winning innings at Headingley, Mark Butcher held his country in a state of excited anticipation to complete England's first win over Australia in five Tests.
He made a Test best 173 not out in an astonishing day's cricket in which England started out trying to save the match and finished in a cascade of champagne with an amazing six wicket victory recreating the celebratory scenes of 1981 when Botham blasted England to an unlikely 18-run victory.
In front of a packed crowd of more than 13,000 and under sunny skies, the Surrey left-hander, who was recalled to Test cricket only when injuries depleted selection choices, scored the winning runs by running Shane Warne down to the cover boundary.
By then, victory had been inevitable for about five overs though the loss of Nasser Hussain for a valiant 55 and Mark Ramprakash for 32 in the previous over, had kept an enthralled Headingley crowd on the edge of their seats.
It was spectacular, nerve-jangling stuff and all the more dramatic for the way in which the day had started, which was in disaster for England, as the ball fired about the pitch, keeping low and flying yards, high above the heads of the fielders.
Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick started a familiar ball rolling, both losing their wickets in the first half-hour of play after just 11 overs of the innings completed.
For the 18th time in his career, Atherton became another treasured statistic in Glenn McGrath's bowling book and Trescothick was caught in the gully off Jason Gillespie.
Needing 315 to win, England were 33 for two with their anchors weighed and the ship possibly heading for a storm.
But a superb third wicket partnership between Mark Butcher and England captain Nasser Hussain put them back in the game and set them on course for victory. Both seemed relaxed and confident despite England's npower Ashes series defeat at Trent Bridge.
Together they added 181, a record for any partnership against Australia at Headingley (beating Bill Edrich and Alec Bedser's stand in 1948) and took England to 214 for three, which was not only in the safety zone but put them in sight of an unlikely victory.
Hussain hooked Gillespie for six which brought proceedings to a halt as ground staff scuttled behind a brick wall at the Kirkstall Lane end to recover the ball and there was another brief but more anxious stoppage when he was hit on the hand by Brett Lee, a blow that led to stunned silence and then a sigh of relief as he shook it and carried on.
He and Butcher found difficulty in mastering the art of running between the wickets with three alarmingly close calls but the partnership only ended when Hussain edged Gillespie to the wicketkeeper having been at the crease for more than three gritty hours, hitting a six and five fours.
England needed to keep their cool for the third consecutive session, requiring 93 with plenty of overs to spare and seven wickets remaining.
Another big partnership developed between Butcher and his Surrey colleague Mark Ramprakash and their blitz on the Australian bowling led to a series of errors and fumbles in the field proving that the best team in the world are as prone to mistakes when under pressure, as any other team.
When Butcher passed 116, the score he had made in two previous Tests, his confidence soared and even cut Gillespie for six, which as good as sealed England's historic victory, - England's second highest ever successful run chase against Australia, after the 332 scored in 1928-29.