Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo
SA v ENG (1)
IND v NZ (1)
England Lions in Sri Lanka (1)
Ranji Trophy (4)
WI 4-Day (1)
BPL 2023 (1)
It wasn't when it was supposed to. Miserable grey skies, persistent drizzle, the covers draped across the ground in the shape of a large cross. Bloody English weather, we moaned, and we continued to grumble throughout the day, as the sky grew even darker and the rain blew across in waves and we stared forlornly at that plastic cross that was ours to bear. Why do we put ourselves through this, we thought. Stupid Test cricket.
Do you remember the bursts of play in between the frustrating delays on that first day that was a million days ago? 51.2 overs was all it took for Australia to lurch from cruising at tea to all out by stumps. The cruise was steered by the granite-hewn doughtiness of Marnus Labuschagne, a man who would never have been here but for the injury to Steven Smith; and David Warner, who played and missed and played and missed when the ball was swinging and seaming in a fashion that was all but unplayable. It was unmissable viewing. He survived it all until he couldn't. Cracking Test cricket.
Do you recall the player who cracked his formidable defence? The bloke who was a Twitter cricket nuffy a few years ago, posting about so many players and match situations that he has now become cricket's prophetic Joffradamus? Archer's breathtaking six-wicket haul came through spells of ingenuity and precision spiked with sudden spurts of discomforting bounce and worrying pace. Thrilling Test cricket.
Any recollection of Australia's triumphant pace triumvirate when England came out to bat terribly and offer all the resistance of wet rice paper? As if to blow away the Jofra hype in the Headingley breeze, Pat Cummins reminded us why he is the No. 1 Test bowler in the world, James Pattinson was miserly in taking wickets while giving virtually no runs and Josh Hazlewood left us scratching our heads at the fact he wasn't even in the XI at the start of the series. Superb Test cricket.
Did you read the obituaries as they rolled out as quickly as England's batting line-up crumbled in their first innings, often too meekly to be blessed with any kind words? There were inexplicable shots from batsmen who should know better and dismissals that were disturbingly easy to predict. As Australians declared a Headingley 67 to be the new Trent Bridge 60 and Hazlewood warned of the scars such a capitulation would inflict, English eyes turned from the horror unfolding in Leeds to possible replacements elsewhere. Techniques, temperament and levels of fatigue were dissected and lamented in equal measures. The fault of damn white-ball cricket.
Can you call to mind Australia's second innings, when Labuschagne's granite emerged once more to cement his place in the team whenever Smith returns? This time he had sturdier support as Australia stole the game away to a place where it was surely safe. And the gnawing fear of England fans lingered in the air as their precious new bowling jewel, playing in just his second Test, pulled up with cramp and hobbled from the field in the manner of an 80-year-old. Who else would pick up the slack but Ben Stokes, who lives and breathes for the furnace of battle, and delivered a mammoth spell of heightened speed and constant threat that was broken only by four Archer balls and the overnight suspension of play? Gutsy Test cricket.
Do you remember the feeling of inevitability as the third day concluded, England already three wickets down and needing another Headingley miracle to keep the Ashes at least smouldering? Joe Denly had played and missed as Warner had in the first innings but it was a torturous affair, his half-century a testament of sheer will and grit. Joe Root was fending off the questions surrounding his captaincy as much as he was deflecting Australia's quicks. Stokes recalled the spirit of Geoffrey Boycott in the ground where his presence still lingers, all leaves and patience as he eked a paltry two runs by the close of play. Attritional Test cricket.
The fourth day is fresher in the memory for all its manic, dramatic cray-cray. But it started with four quietly tense maidens as Root and Stokes engaged in a stand-off with Australia's gun slingers to see who would blink first. Root's eyelids batted but it took a flash of brilliance in the field by Warner to seal his fate. That's probably it, we thought. England needed these two to stay at the crease; Nathan Lyon was all over a tentative Stokes and the new ball was coming. It came and went and England were the better for it as the flattening pitch and the presence of Jonny Bairstow helped Stokes flip into the mid-range of his gears. Enthralling Test cricket.
From here the memories become a swirling mass of anxiety and enthrallment as hope and despair tangoed back and forth. That's certainly it, we thought, as Jos Buttler became the victim of a bad call for a run and Travis Head's superb arm. Done deal, for sure, when Chris Woakes chipped one gently to Matthew Wade. Nervy, jittery Test cricket.
The congregation that gathered on a Sunday to pray for a divine miracle won't forget the last wicket stand; Headingley had become a giant bellows that inhaled and exhaled with every ludicrous moment as Stokes found a gear far removed from the caution with which he began his crusade. They applauded the leaves, they cheered the small milestones, they were intimately engaged. They teetered on a tightrope and dared to hope, knowing that one slip, one good ball, would end it all. When Stokes reversed his bat and spanked Lyon into the Western Terrace, the sheer disbelief at his audacity broke over the stadium in a way that could almost be physically felt. It was ludicrous, nonsensical Test cricket.
The dropped catch, the burned review, Lyon's fumbling of a certain run-out, the questionable umpiring; they are all seared in our memory now, swirled in with a mix of Stokes' masterful boundary-clearing strokes and Jack Leach's glasses-fogging defiance. The feelings they provoked depended on the prism through which they were viewed: cruel despair or unmitigated joy.
In the end we were left with one of the greatest Ashes Tests in living memory. The kind of Test we read about or watch on faded highlights packages and wonder what it would have been like to have witnessed it in the flesh. What had started in gloom now finished bathed in the brightest of sunshine.
Glorious, crazy, stupendous Test cricket.