500-1: The Miracle of Headingley, by Rob Steen and Alastair McLellan
Sunday 16 January 2011
A deeply satisfying Ashes series for England followers, and soon they will be able to relive it in book form; Ashes 2010-11 by Gideon Haigh, Australia's best current cricket writer by a country mile and the contributor of one of the forewords to 500-1, is due to be published next month.
But there is unlikely to be a book written solely on one of the Tests; perversely, England's huge winning margins at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney meant the games lacked the suspense and wild improbability of Headingley '81.
As Mike Brearley, England's captain in that game, writes in the other foreword: "Such were the margins, not only in the Headingley Test but in all three of England's wins in the series, that the minutest chances, infinitesimal differences, could have overturned the outcomes."
The title refers to the Ladbrokes odds against an England win displayed on the scoreboard late on Saturday, when England, following on 227 behind, were 0 for 1 in their second innings. After a whirlwind 149 from Ian Botham, Bob Willis took 8 for 43 to dismiss Australia for 111 and England won by 18 runs.
But there is much little-known detail in this definitive account of that match, originally published in 2001 and reissued in time for the 30th anniversary. Who knew at the time, for instance, that Graham Dilley was so distressed with his form that he was hoping not to be picked, or that the groundsman, Keith Boyce, was so worried about the "totally dodgy" pitch that, against regulations, he secretly covered it on the rest day?
Fascinating stuff explored in forensic detail; the authors' insistence on dragging their political views into the story can be a touch wearisome, but that's a small price to pay for a tremendously enjoyable read.
Published in paperback by John Wisden, £9.99
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