Alternative Universe

Australia win the 2019 Headingley Test. Stokes who?

And a new spinner emerges down under

Himanshu Agrawal
Nathan Lyon misses the chance to run out Jack Leach with England needing two to win, England v Australia, 3rd Ashes Test, Headingley, August 25, 2019

Spectacles sales crash in the UK after Jack Leach's ill-advised dash from the crease at Headingley  •  Getty Images

This time in Alternative Universe, the series in which our writers let their imagination change the game, Ben Stokes' Headingley heroics last year are all for nothing
The moment
At 0-1 down and 286 for 9 while chasing 359, England needed Ben Stokes, their hero all summer long, to keep them alive. With two runs to win, facing Nathan Lyon, Stokes reverse-swept to point. Non-striker Jack Leach ran blindly - what a waste, all that effort to carefully clean his glasses between balls - and was sent back by Stokes. But despite having all the time in the world and Leach being miles from the crease, Lyon fumbled the run-out. England went on to get a famous win.
The tweak
What if Lyon had made up for the ball popping out of his hand by kicking it back up and grabbing it with two hands while dislodging the bails, with Leach a long jump away? The dismissal is unusual, so the decision goes upstairs. The original third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, is retired ill and his place is taken by Englishman Tim Robinson, who, after much deliberation, rules in favour of Australia. They win by one run.
What happened next
Feeling denied by one of their own, local newspapers carry headlines like "Rob-bed" and "Robben-son". Stokes' contribution is forgotten and he is mocked for poor calling with a tailender. Sky Sports footage shows the ball millimetres above Lyon's fingertips when the bails come off. Coach Justin Langer privately has a go at Lyon. His comments leak to the media, who question Australia's "elite honesty". In the wake of intense scrutiny, Lyon goes wicketless in the remaining Tests, although Australia win 3-1.
Lyon takes an indefinite break from the game and a desperate Australia try and discard five different spinners during their home summer, where they lose to Pakistan and New Zealand. The search for a new spinner takes a bizarre turn with many in the media declaring that Shane Warne is still Australia's best; Warnie agrees. Jason Krejza, Xavier Doherty, Steve O'Keefe, Brad Hogg and Nathan Hauritz all raise their hands, but the job ultimately goes to Steve Smith, who, now bored with all the endless run-scoring, wants another shot at legspin.
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Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo