YORKSHIRE’s marketing team tweeted a generic ‘sick note’ yesterday morning, urging employers to excuse so-and-so from work “on Tuesday 29 August as they have suddenly contracted a viral condition more commonly known as ‘Cricket Fever’.”
Signed by “Dr Root”, aka England captain Joe Root, it left a blank space for the patient’s name and cited “Headingley withdrawal” symptoms and the prospect of missing an enthralling finish to the Test between England and the West Indies.
Dr Root’s prescription was a ticket for the fifth and final day of a game that stood intriguingly poised, with the West Indies 5-0 in their second innings in pursuit of 322 to win.
It was an innovative marketing ploy by Yorkshire, whose overall commercial strategy was rewarded by a crowd of 8,530 (lifting the overall match attendance to 56,005) and, ultimately, the thrilling conclusion that this most magnificent of Tests deserved.
After five days of fluctuating combat, played on a pitch for which Yorkshire groundsman Andy Fogarty deserved the utmost credit, that conclusion saw the West Indies win by five wickets with 4.4 overs of the match remaining.
Shai Hope led the way with an unbeaten 118, becoming the first man to score two hundreds in a first-class game at Headingley.
To put that into perspective, it was the 534th first-class match at the ground dating back to 1890, a ground graced by all the great names from Bradman to Boycott, Sutcliffe to Sobers.
Earlier, Kraigg Brathwaite narrowly failed to become the first to create that slice of history, the opener falling for a fine 95, while Jermaine Blackwood chipped in with a quickfire 41 at the end as the West Indies achieved the second-highest successful Test run-chase at Headingley behind the 404-3 of Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ in 1948.
Heavily criticised after their innings defeat in the opening Test at Edgbaston, with Boycott branding them the worst Test side that he has seen, the West Indies pulled off one of the greatest upsets of the modern era to level the three-match series ahead of the final game at Lord’s that starts tomorrow week.
It was only their fourth win in 88 Tests away from home in the past 20 years, excluding games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and represented a quite remarkable turnaround.
Although victory was sealed in dramatic style, beneath suffocating cloud and beaming floodlights, it was no less than the tourists deserved for their overall performance with bat and ball.
It was only their fielding, indeed, that prevented them winning much earlier; the visitors dropped seven catches in total, amounting to a combined cost of 238 runs that would have left them with a target of 84.
England dropped catches too, including two yesterday by Alastair Cook, who spilled Brathwaite on four in the day’s fourth over bowled by Stuart Broad.
After play began 15 minutes late due to rain, Broad found Brathwaite’s edge from the Kirkstall Lane end only for the ball to burst through Cook’s grasp at first slip at shoulder height and promptly disappear to the fine-leg boundary.
So distraught was Broad, who is not known for his joie de vivre in such circumstances, that he spent most of the next few minutes with his hands on his head sporting a “Why me?” expression beneath a superfluous white sunhat.
He was smiling shortly afterwards, though, Kieran Powell edging him to Ben Stokes at fourth slip to leave the West Indies 46-1.
That became 53-2 when Brathwaite drove back a fierce return catch at Broad, who fortuitously deflected the ball on to the stumps at the non-striker’s end with Kyle Hope stranded.
If that signalled that it was not to be the West Indies’ day, Brathwaite and Shai Hope had other ideas. In the first innings, the pair added 246; this time, they raised 144, thus becoming only the second West Indian pair after Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes against Australia at Trinidad in 1955 to raise a double century and century stand in the same Test.
Brathwaite, a 24-year-old who models himself on the limpet-like Shivnarine Chanderpaul, displayed comparable patience and character to his hero.
Shai Hope, 23, possesses more strokes and flair, the duo complementing each other perfectly.
Their stand was not broken until the penultimate over before tea, Brathwaite aiming a cover drive at off-spinner Moeen Ali and edging to solitary slip Stokes.
Shai Hope and Roston Chase then added 49 to take the West Indies to within 76 of their target, Chase falling to a brilliant diving catch at mid-on by Mason Crane, briefly fielding as a substitute for Broad before departing to a standing ovation.
Blackwood swung at pretty much everything before being stumped trying to win the match with a six, sharing a stand of 74 with Hope, who deservedly hit the winning runs.
It was a wonderful victory, a magnificent Test match, and a terrific advert for the game’s greatest format.