At Lord's, September 7-9. England won by nine wickets. Toss: West Indies.
At 3.32 on the second afternoon, reality reasserted itself. Twice in three balls, Gabriel bowled Stokes with identical deliveries, and now there was no deus ex machina: Gabriel's front foot was safely on the line. Until then, Stokes had swaggered through the Test as though he had slipped a dinner jacket over his whites, finished his dry Martini, checked the magazine of his Walther PPK, and single-handedly set about rescuing his nation from the latest criminal mastermind. Or at least the Wisden Trophy from the clutches of a resurgent West Indies.
The body count had been growing faster than in the opening sequence of a Bond film and, by the end of a violent first day - most of it acted out under lights that seemed right for a day's shooting - Lord's was littered with corpses. Stokes had accounted for six and, with a little help from his friends, West Indies were neutralised for 123. But the fight wasn't over: by nightfall four England batsmen had gone too. Though not Stokes. Next day, he dodged bullets that surely had his name on them. Dropped on 24, he strode to the game's first half-century, before eventually being downed by Gabriel for 60. With the Bristol fracas still a fortnight away, the world was at his feet. An astonishing performance from Anderson then dominated the second half of the Test but, as the credits rolled, there was a colourful cameo by a man called Blofeld.
West Indies' stunning victory at Leeds meant the series was unexpectedly at stake in this, the second-latest Test staged in the UK (after England's Ashes-clinching Oval draw of 2005, which began on September 8). The Headingley success also persuaded West Indies to retain Bishoo's leg-spin, when a swing bowler might have been better. England drafted in Roland-Jones for Chris Woakes, who had cast a thin shadow at Leeds. In a game swirling with subplots and undercurrents, three of their top order were batting for an Ashes place - and Anderson began on 497 Test wickets. West Indies, meanwhile, were distracted by the appalling damage caused in the Caribbean by Hurricane Irma.
Holder won his first toss of the series. Undeterred either by increasing cloud cover or fairy rings - harmless circular marks caused by a fungus on the cut strip - he opted to bat. Anderson quickly found movement and, in the third over, Brathwaite's outside edge. But, just as he had twice at Leeds, Cook fluffed a takeable chance. Others had Teflon fingers, too: not catching was, well, catching, and by some estimates 25 chances went down during the last two games of the series. To Cook's relief, Bairstow clung on soon after, and Anderson, tail up, had 498.
Rain stalled England's momentum for 40 minutes; Kyle Hope, another casualty of the Anderson-Bairstow axis, stalled them rather less. The next wicket proved trickier and, if West Indian progress was neither serene nor swift, it was steady. The ball moved a bit, though not outrageously; Powell and Shai Hope middled a few, but not regularly. At 78 for two in the 33rd, both sides could be content. But Roland-Jones got one to hold its own up the hill, Hope nibbled, and Cook took a catch. It didn't matter that it was a doddle: Headingley's first-ever twin centurion had gone for a modest, if neat, 29.
The physics of swing bowling may remain a mystery even to its most skilful practitioners, but in the right hands and the right conditions it is a wonder of the natural universe: the music of the spheres. And so it was for Stokes, who outshone Anderson, a grandmaster of the art. By subtly honing the orientation of the seam, position of the fingers, flick of the wrist and point of delivery, Stokes made the ball sing. (No one heard a snatch of "Chattanooga Choo Choo", but whatever it was, it must have been a swing classic.) In his third over, he gave his colleagues a fielding lesson by grasping a stinging return from Powell, despite being in his follow-through.
There was swing from Blackwood, too, though his wild swish simply presented Roland Jones with a second, and left West Indies creaking at 87 for five. Now Stokes truly came into his own, his combination of pace, bounce and extravagant movement scaring the living daylights out of anyone unlucky enough to confront him. Swerving the ball away, he hit Chase's off stump and had Dowrich swallowed low down by a newly confident Cook. After tea, taken at 119 for seven, a monstrous inswinger utterly defeated Holder. Anderson then contributed an astounding over to Bishoo - six times he beat him, yet his reward was a streaky four - before Stokes sliced through the tail with dizzying skill. He snatched three for none in six balls, to end with a career-best six for 22 - the cheapest six-for at Lord's - and membership of a small elite whose name appears on both honours boards.
Root would have been cock-a-hoop at dismissing West Indies for 123, less so to be faced with a ticklish hour and a half in conditions so gloomy - despite the floodlights - it felt as if the umpires had forgotten the pink balls. Where England found lavish swing and a little seam, West Indies found lavish seam and a little swing. Roach, having traded in the raw pace of youth for the greater control of maturity, slashed into England's soft underbelly. First he had Stoneman who, in disservice to his name, wafted outside off; then he deceived the grittier Cook with a corker that angled in from round the wicket and straightened. Now Holder joined the party. After squaring up Westley, he made England's sky fall in: Root's back-foot force flew to first slip, and Powell took a smart catch. At 24 for four, the heat was on.
Stokes negotiated a tricky path to stumps, and next morning held on as Roach cut down Malan, only for rain to sweep in after 26 balls. The top five were gone for 64 and yet, after play resumed at 2.15, Holder dispensed with a third slip. Unerringly, the next ball mocked his caution: Kyle Hope at second leapt to his left, but spilled a tough chance. The mockery continued, with the reprieved (Stokes) promptly drilling a boundary past the aggrieved (Gabriel). Well though West Indies juggled their three-man seam attack, England - if not out of the woods - were only four behind when Bairstow was sixth to go.
Stokes had reached an unruffled fifty from 51 balls, and was threatening to make the game his own - until a lightning inducker beat his forward defensive. But Gabriel had overstepped; Stokes would die another day. It turned out that day was close at hand: in a carbon-copy two balls later, he perished, and Gabriel, at last, had his man. Ali completed Roach's quality five-for to leave England 134 for eight, and the Test in the balance. But tail-end flailing, especially from Broad, secured a lead of 71 - untold riches in a lowscoring thriller.
And so the focus of a noisy Lord's shifted back to the quest for No. 500. It came almost immediately, with Andersonian brilliance. At the end of the third over, Brathwaite played round an inswinger, and the ground erupted. As if to prove the capriciousness of fortune, Stokes dropped a regulation chance from Powell three balls later. Instead Broad made do with Kyle Hope, ending a series so wretched that he and his brother - fixtures at Nos 3 and 4 - never batted together.
But the left-handed Powell, a rare shaft of sun in West Indies' saturnine innings, and the compact Shai Hope frustrated England. Deep into the floodlit evening, though, Powell was undone by a delivery of utmost genius from Anderson, coming round the wicket: it pitched on middle, pinged off the seam and pecked the off bail on the cheek. By the close of the second day, West Indies were effectively 22 for three Hope, they say, springs eternal, and his team were desperate for runs to flow from their leading scorer. They came, too, though they were not the story. That was the unquenchable desire of the 35-year-old Anderson to take wicket after wicket after wicket. Bowling like this - precise length, seductive swing, exquisite control - he looked good for 600 or more.
Sturdier teams than Holder's would have been scattered to the winds. Broad, who was a more dangerous proposition than on day one (when he hurt his heel slipping on the stairs inside the Pavilion), joined in, briefly claiming a third victim. Moments later, however, DRS spared Gabriel the indignity of becoming the first West Indian to suffer a king pair in Tests. It meant Anderson had time to take a seventh, shave a run from his career-best return, and put his feet up.
Thirty wickets had fallen for 494 runs, so a target of 107 was no piece of Test Match Special cake. But the sting had gone from the pitch and, with the absence of the injured Roach, from the West Indies attack. Any residual tension involved England batsmen scrabbling for a place on the trip to Australia, though the only failure was an inked-in tourist: Cook fell to Bishoo's first ball. Stoneman and Westley then swept England to the series, clearing the stage for the Test's third conquering hero. Dressed in a trademark combination of shocking colours, Henry Blofeld called time on 45 years with TMS, strolled a lap of honour, and acknowledged the adulation of a full house. Lost in the nostalgia concerning pigeons, seagulls, buses, cranes, helicopters and sundry other dear old things was the identity of the Man of the Match. The name's Stokes.
Man of the Match: B. A. Stokes