England, thrashed in four consecutive Ashes series, marched into the first Test in Birmingham on 5 June and won. Not only that, they won brilliantly. By nine wickets; and with a full day to spare.
How we relished the moment. "Ashes coming home" a euphoric Edgbaston crowd sang. In the light of what happened subsequently, with normal service resumed and a fifth straight series loss added to the record, it is almost embarrassing to recall that even those who purport to take a sober view of the game were tempted to believe it.
Then again, who would not? After 19 overs of an extraordinary first morning, Australia were 54 for 8! True, the tourists were underprepared, badly out of form and England, heartened by victory in the Texaco Trophy games, sensed they just might strike an early blow. But, even so, this was pinch- yourself stuff.
Yet it did not end there. Following the startling brilliance of Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick, sharing eight scalps as Australia - 118 all out - succumbed to a swinging ball, came the majesty of Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe.
Coming together as England faced their own crisis at 50 for 3, these young batsmen played so well that comparisons with the greats were not, for once, misplaced. Outstanding after tea on the opening day, they were as good if not better on the second, when the first session yielded 135 runs. Hussain, whose driving was an absolute joy, became only the seventh Englishman to make 200 against Australia. The partnership, a record for England's fourth wicket in Ashes Tests, realised 288 at a run a minute.
Even then, England's victory was not assured and a third great effort needed. Australia, for all their troubles, did not roll over. Mark Taylor, their beleaguered captain, revealed the immense depth of his character with a century that not only saved his job but, for a while, looked as though it might even save the match.
No Australian wicket fell between 11.45 on the Saturday and lunch the following day. By 3pm on the fourth afternoon, when a huge but happily brief thunderstorm broke, Australia were 43 ahead and with five wickets still in hand.
In the past, England might have lost their chance but Gough, Robert Croft and company had discovered the patience and discipline many thought beyond them. And then Mark Ealham suddenly caught the mood, taking the last three Aussie wickets for no runs in 10 deliveries.
England were left needing 118 runs to win and more than a day in which to get them, an order which, with care, even they could achieve comfortably. But having sunk the knife into Australian flesh, Michael Atherton was bent now on twisting it. With the extra hour at England's disposal, the captain determined that the job would be finished not before a half-empty ground on Monday morning but there and then.
Appropriately with his most trusted aide, Alec Stewart, at his side, it was Atherton who delivered the coup de grace, the two matching one another in a passage of bravura batting that ensured not only defeat but humiliation, in 87 minutes, for their opponents. Shortly before 7pm, Edgbaston was engulfed in an explosion of joy and dreams of a glorious, vintage summer began. Such a pity we had to wake up...Reuse content