Impossible, simply impossible. In all of West Indies cricket history nothing can have been quite so gloriously scatty, unlikely, improbable and, yes, let's go there, as impossible as the victory achieved by Jason Holder's team at Headingley
. Only one team stands above them on the list of fourth-innings run chases at this hotbed of Yorkshire cricket, and that little lot became known as the Invincibles and were led by Sir Donald Bradman
The Invincibles cruised across the finish line too
, their target 82 runs more than Holder's, having lost just three wickets - Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett and Keith Miller
, for the record - with Bradman unbeaten on 173 and Neil Harvey on 4. Legends all, they took 114 overs and one ball to chase down 404. West Indies required 91 overs and two balls to make the 322 asked of them, and lost five wickets, though the fifth was a gimme, as Jermaine Blackwood
removed his helmet with two needed against Moeen Ali
and charged down the pitch to hit the offspinner to Bradford and back: daft as a brush really, and very Miller.
In the press conference the previous night, Moeen had said that England took their chance to grind West Indies into the ground before Joe Root declared. Blackwood's bareheaded bravado was doubtless in response to this surprisingly confrontational comment from the usually modest and understated Moeen. Were England ahead of themselves? Was hubris to hand? Almost always it is best to keep stumm until the umpires have pulled stumps for the last time. Annoyingly, Blackwood, the West Indian No. 6, was stumped by yards and the No. 7 came in to watch at the non-striker's end as Shai Hope
immediately whipped the winning runs off his hip.
Hope - now there's a name for the future of West Indies cricket. In attempting to describe the innings played by Hope, I shall unashamedly be guilty of hyperbole. Firstly the fact: nobody has ever achieved two hundreds in the same first-class match at Headingley before: so that's Sutcliffe, Hutton, Boycott and Vaughan to name some locals; Bradman, Chappell, Richards, Tendulkar and Lara to name a visitor or two.
Up against Hope were the two English bowlers with the most wickets - ever
. The pitch was fine, if prone to betraying a batsman when set; not that the catching matched its occasional threat. Hope averaged 19 in 11 Tests prior to this one, and at Edgbaston
we saw why: done over by Toby Roland-Jones and Ben Stokes for a total in the match of 19, so 50% below his norm. And yet, watching him here, you could never believe such indifference, only excellence. These were innings of poise and calm, control and calculation. If anything, defence shone more brightly than attack, and quite certainly, self-belief rose above insecurity. Everywhere, everyone was shocked. You had to have been at Edgbaston to see how bad it was. Equally, you had to have been at Headingley to see how good it was. This man, and others around him, the real deal.
West Indies have to back up. This will take concentration and a mindset. Expectation is very different from hope. It leaves less room for excuses and more space for expression
Hope soaked up the pressure, Hope sucked the oxygen out of England, Hope drove through the covers, cut, clipped and pulled with beauty and clarity, but above all, Hope played defence strokes with the same vigour and determination once applied by those Bajan predecessors of his, Messrs Greenidge and Haynes. For all the mighty power and generous flair that highlighted the game played by those two fellows, the point was you couldn't get them out. Neither could Anderson or Broad get rid of Hope. With 10 to win, he was offered the bait of a wide half-volley and he shouldered arms as if to say "Uh-uh, you not catching me boy, I shall be here when night closes in and the party has begun." After that he chose singles as his route to the summit.
What a party it will have been, in the dressing room and all over the islands of the Caribbean. The beer and rum will flow, the smiles will return to the conversations about West Indies cricket, and as the water laps to the shore, glasses will be raised to the first man to make two hundreds in a match at Headingley, and to West Indies' first win away from home for five long years. It is just off-the-chart fantastic.
Now for expectation. Holder's team go to Lord's with a marvellous opportunity. They have shown themselves to be gifted and stubborn cricketers. They cannot waste such attributes. They have to back up. This will take concentration and a mindset. Expectation is very different from hope. It leaves less room for excuses and more space for expression.
England will come with blazing guns, for this defeat will have hurt deeply and the best way to ease such pain is with revenge. Holder's heroes must be ready for this and respond. Lord's inspires and Lord's overwhelms: which will it be a week on Thursday, when the deciding match of three, a face-off that was inconceivable a week ago, begins on the morning of September the 7th? If it inspires, those of us lucky to have been at Headingley might say we were there at the rebirth of West Indies Test match cricket and the unveiling of its next master batsman. I know, it's a bit over the top but, hey, this was one for the ages.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK