We're running, you may have noticed, a Balls of the Century series at The Cricket Monthly. The top 20 have been picked - and boo, down with recency bias and all that - but we may have to scrap it and restart the whole damn thing after Mohammad Abbas' intervention yesterday.
There's nothing else that can be done about it because, as with every single ball in that list and in the best way possible, once you've seen it, you can't unsee it. The more you watch it, the more you listen to it, the more you slow it down, the more you break it down, the better it gets, a little like Apocalypse Now.
The thing about the ball to dismiss Ben Stokes is the impossibility of even imagining it happening. Every single moment in the existence of this delivery exists only to prove that it cannot possibly do what it ultimately ends up doing. If you think that's hype, Nasser Hussain's immediate reaction should be proof.
Very little that happens on a cricket field is a surprise to Hussain but there's just the tiniest hint that even he is thrown off by this.
"Oh gone!" he lets out, almost involuntarily, before being drowned out by the Ai hai hais. He recovers quickly: "What a beauty… it takes something special to get Stokes out and that is special." As ever, it is pitch-perfect for the moment, but that bit of surprise at the start is telling: something that even Hussain couldn't account for has happened.
"Oh gone!" is not an inarticulate reaction, though this is the man who within eight seconds of it happening had given us the 11 immortal words that both caught a moment and scripted an entire history: "Pakistan cricket at its best, one minute down, next minute up!" (Three years on, my geese remain bumped.)
Completely understandable, because bowled was the least likely mode of dismissal when this delivery began. Batsmen take guard outside the crease to Abbas often, which is not to say that it works. Aaron Finch did it in the UAE two years ago and it worked for as long as Abbas allowed it to. But Abbas to Finch is a different game, not only because it is right-arm over to a right-hand batsman. Stokes is a better Test batsman, in better form, and what's more, had recent history in countering similar conundrums against Kemar Roach and Jason Holder. And unlike Finch, who opened, Stokes had the benefit of starting his innings having seen at least a little of what was happening. He was taking guard well outside the crease from the first ball.
The only opening Stokes gave to Abbas here was where he took guard, which is on and around leg. This is important because though he may move across the stumps significantly, because of where he starts off, there's a paper-thin opening. Otherwise, there's little else he does wrong through this
Abbas began from around the wicket, as part of the vogue or because he thought it made more sense in this situation. Two years ago, at Lord's, he had trapped Stokes lbw from over the wicket, with a ball that DRS ultimately found to have pitched just in line with leg stump. Stokes was done for length there, one of those that you could stay back to, you could move forward to, but you could be out to in both scenarios.
Different Stokes, different Abbas and rather than that dismissal what Stokes was doing here was geared to what Abbas was doing now with a newer ball (at Lord's the ball was 54 overs old). He was putting Abbas off the lengths he bowls, yes - which is central to Abbas - but also negating what angle Abbas could create from round the wicket.
In one of his two dismissals to Jason Holder - of similar pace but not skill as Abbas - Stokes had moved across rather than at Holder from around the wicket, and edged behind. Holder was over the wicket for the other, Stokes again moving across to edge to gully.
The only opening Stokes gave to Abbas here was where he took guard, which, as the screenshot below shows is on and around leg. This is important because though he may move across the stumps significantly, because of where he starts off, there's a paper-thin opening. Otherwise there's little else he does wrong through this.
In other words, what that guard did, possibly, was to allow Abbas to see two stumps clearly and map out a delivery that could beat Stokes: angling in, cutting away, not hitting those stumps but beating him and catching an edge. Even then, the precision required is beyond the 10,000- hours-of-practice rule.
Stokes is already well outside his crease but only makes his first move as Abbas's right arm is beginning its arc to release, moving his back foot across and mostly forward.
At the point of release, Stokes is further down and now showing Abbas one-and-a-half stumps. It's too late for Abbas to adjust, though.
As the ball pitches, Stokes has seen the line, worked out the length, and committed to the stroke, his front foot landing. It also appears as if he's covering the stumps. This is where the optical illusion begins because just one stump is now visible to the viewer.
The magic frame, as the ball reaches Stokes. The first part is done - Abbas has drifted it in so that the line is very tight. Between the last frame and this one, Stokes' bat has moved closer to the body, probably accounting for the bit of swing in.
And then it's cut away. Still, there's no way to see, from this moment on, this ball hitting off-stump. An edge - yes, off stump - no, especially because Abbas has pulled the length back and on this surface, there's every chance it bounces over the stumps from there.
Now it's gone past the edge. Still no, off stump - no way. Stokes has done most things right still, head in line, not over-balanced, but remember that paper-thin opening?
Only now, a day later, we all know what happened next but on watching it live, the brain's first reaction was to short-circuit. There's a sound - is that a stump, an edge? In real time, I first thought the ball must have slipped under the toe of his bat, that Stokes had yorked himself because only that could explain how the ball hit the stumps at all. The expression forming on Stokes' face below suggests, more than one brain was struggling to comprehend what happened.
Data breaks down what happens in cricket better than ever before. Cricviz recorded this ball swinging in 0.2 degrees and seaming away 1.8 degrees but that's like using numbers to explain love.
Watch the dismissal all you want, and if it makes sense, great. If it doesn't (not unlike Wasim Akram to Rahul Dravid), watch it anyway because there's no limit to how much you can appreciate something, and appreciating something while not understanding it is perfectly acceptable. As, in fact, a slight paraphrasing of another Nasser Hussain gem shows us: no way, no, no way, you cannot do that, Mohammad Abbas.