Mark Butcher at Headingley - 19/08/2001

From: Maxie Allen
Category: Other stuff
Date: 21 August 2001


Headingley is a ramshackle and decrepid ground which barely passes muster as an international sporting venue. But there is a certain something about the place, a intangible quality which induces magical events.

Bradman's 334, Australia's fourth innings 408 to win in 1948, Boycott's hundredth hundred in 1977 and the infamous Botham-Willis 1981 match (cricket's answer to 1966) all took place at Leeds. And now Mark Butcher knocks on the pantheon's door.

His performance was like a dose of morphine to a mortally wounded infantryman. For one glorious sun-soaked day his phenomenal innings washed away the pain which has so wracked the body of English cricket this summer.

He was there from the fourth ball of the day till the last, when he cut Shane Warne behind point for the three winning runs. Weathering the brutal pace and bounce of McGrath and Gillespie, Butcher had turned survival into counter attack and then victory.

Destiny had decreed this was to be his day. If he swung and missed there was no nick. If he did edge the ball it flew through or over the slips for four. But mostly he combined excellent shot selection with beautifully struck cuts, drives and pulls to punish any errors in length by the bowlers. Twice in consecutive balls he leant back to square cut McGrath for four with a sumptous combination of nonchalance and precision.

Butcher has always been regarded as a good county pro who, on his day, can do a decent job for England. Here he was transformed from bit part player to superstar, from grub to butterfly; to dazzle us with its beauty for its brief day in the sun. He will not make sensational match winning Test centuries on a regular basis. Mark Butcher has now played the best innings of his life.

Part of Test cricket's fascination is the way the focus of the contest shifts; team versus team, individual versus individual, team versus individual. At Headingley the modest, humble Mark Butcher - a forgotten man three months ago - took on the one of the finest bowling attacks of all time, and won. Had Marcus Trescothick or Graham Thorpe made 173* instead, it would not have been nearly so special.

Sport is also about liberation and renewal. Every run England scored elicited a heartfelt roar from the near capacity crowd; because every run loosened the bonds of defeat and despair which had been wound so tight during the first three Tests.

And because victory breeds myopia. England's improbable, wonderful win - their highest every fourth innings total to win a Test in England - soothes and even erases our grief at the failure to regain the Ashes, and fills us instead with the wonder of the moment.

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