As the nation braces itself for a final flurry of leather on willow, and prays that (at the very least) England lasts the distance in the final Ashes Test (Sky Sports 1, from 10am), Esquire remembers some of the most momentous series finales at the Brit Oval.
On a pitch that heavily favoured the bat, Len Hutton won the toss before informing his teammates "No score is too high". He went on to eclipse Donald Bradman's Ashes record with a career best of 364 runs, before England declared for the unlikely total of 903 for 7. Bradman added injury to insult by breaking his ankle during a brief spell at the wicket, before his side lost by an innings and 579 runs, the largest margin in Test history.
With Australia in trouble at the crease at lunch on the final day, a thunderstorm of Old Testament proportions swept in, threatening to ruin England’s hopes of a result. Undeterred, hundreds of fans attended to the flooded pitch with towels, blankets, and anything else to hand, giving Derek Underwood the opportunity to bowl out the visitors with only five minutes of play remaining.
In England’s best Ashes summer to date, Davids Gooch and Gower accrued 353 runs between them before a freshly mulleted Ian Botham (think Paul Calf channelling Noel Edmonds) smashed his first ball over the boundary rope and into the team dressing room. The visitors’ reply was poor (Beefy went on to take six wickets for 108), and England won the series 3-1.
When Steve Waugh tore a calf muscle at the fourth test and was stretchered off the Trent Bridge turf, pundits presumed it was early doors for the celebrated batsman, especially as his team had already secured the Ashes. Not so. Three weeks later, Waugh hobbled onto the Oval pitch, and faced an agonising 256 deliveries while leaning on his good leg. He was unbeaten on 157, and Australia finished their tour with four wins to England’s one.
"He has the potential to become a world-class player and a genuine match-winner," prayed the ECB’s chief selector David Graveney, as he explained ignoring England stalwart and headband aficionado Graham Thorpe for unproven (and un-English) armchair philosopher Kevin Pietersen. Needing only to ensure a draw to bring the famous urn home, the new boy was dropped three times by the Australian fielders, but kept his composure to notch up 158 runs, including a record seven sixes. The rest is history.