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Let's be honest, cricket is not an exciting spectator sport most of the time. Apart from a tiny, tiny number of people, most people who say they "follow the cricket" mean that they vaguely keep an eye on the score and maybe have the Test Match on Sky Sports or Radio 4 on in the background while they do other things. Typical attendance at county first class matches is just a few thousand for one of the top counties on a good day.

But...but...

On those rare occasions when cricket is exciting, it's all the more memorable simply because it's so rare.

Which brings me on to Great Sporting Moments Numbers 2 and 3. The 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley. (Note for readers from non-cricket countries: 'The Ashes' is the series of test (i.e. 5 day) matches played between England and Australia. It's probably the most important cricket for English and Australian fans.)

Ian Botham had started the six match series as England captain. He was England's biggest star at the time. At his best, both a big-hitting batsman and an effective fast-medium pace bowler. However, after two matches, Australia led 1-0 and Botham's personal form was poor. He had failed to win any of his twelve matches as captain and failed to score a run in the second test. He was removed as captain (but kept his place in the side) and replaced by former captain Mike Brearley - not regarded as a particularly talented player, but a clever captain and motivator.

The change didn't have an instant impact in the third test at Headingley in Leeds. Although Botham took six wickets in Australia's first innings, Australia declared on 401-9. England's batting response was poor - 174 all out (although Botham made 50). Because they trailed by more than 200 runs, Australia chose to force England to follow on (to bat again immediately). England were reduced to 105-5 when Botham came out to bat. England still needed 122 to avoid an embarrassing innings defeat. They avoided the innings defeat because Botham hit a brutal 149 not out, unquestionably one of the greatest test match innings ever.



At the end of England's second innings, they had a lead of 130 - a very gettable target for Australian batsmen high on confidence. Even more so when they got to 56 for 1. At that point, Brearley made a crucial tactical change. He switched his bowlers around, allowing fast bowler Bob Willis to bowl down the slope from the Kirkstall Lane end. Willis had bowled poorly in Australia's first innings, but followed Botham's lead and went for all out attack. There were bad balls, and no balls, but there was plenty of pace and bounce and hostility...and it worked. He took eight wickets for just 43 runs as Australian crumbled and England amazingly, miraculously won the match. It was only the second time in the history of test cricket that a team had won having followed on.



Australia weren't the same after that. England came back again to win the fourth test, and then Botham slaughtered the Australian bowlers with an innings of 118 that included six sixes to win the fifth test and clinch the series. England regained the Ashes.

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