England beat Australia by two runs to level the Ashes series 1-1
The second Test match ended at 12.12pm at Edgbaston yesterday with the two run win for England the narrowest in 124 years of Ashes cricket, and produced contrasting scenes of unprecedented jubilation and heartbreak on and off the field.
Grown men were in tears as they hugged each other and jumped up and down for several minutes as though on a giant trampoline.
When Mike Kasprowicz was controversially given out to a low leg side catch by Geraint Jones off Steve Harmison, nine of the wicketkeeper's ten colleages sprinted down the wicket to hug him, kiss him, lift him in the air and start the equivalent cricketing version of toss the caber.
But who was the tenth and missing man? It was Andrew Flintoff who had spotted a distraught Brett Lee at the non-striker's end sink to his haunches at having failed by inches to take his side over the winning line.
The two world class cricketers have a history, starting 11 months ago on the same ground in the ICC semi-final, and has continued throughout the summer with a mutual desire to knock each others's head off.
Flintoff was at his most brutal in the 112 minutes play yesterday. He hit Lee at least a dozen times with sickening blows - one of which must have been within centimetres of breaking an arm. Lee never flinched and played a magnificent leading role in all but realising the impossible dream.
They have swapped bruising bouncers and plenty of serious verbals, but that did not stop Flintoff showing he is a big man in every sense. He walked up to Lee, said a few words before both giants put their arms around each other.
The day started in almost surreal fashion with 20,000 streaming in the ground carrying picnic hampers and the rest as though they were set to camp out for the day instead of, possibly, five minutes. Umpires and players came out to a cacophony of cheering and the usual Barmy Army song-sheets, belted out more in expectation than hope.
After all, only two tail-end wickets to mop up before the proper celebrations began. Michael Vaughan began with his two main enforcers, Flintoff and Steve Harmison, and Shane Warne and Lee predictably began with a flurry of flailing strokes, used out of a nothing-to-lose philosophy. They played and missed a dozen times in the first 40 minutes, but the trouble was that they also creamed runs at a good rate.
Harmison's first four overs cost 27, and when Ashley Giles came on in the 13th over of the morning, he conceded 13 runs in an over which meant Vaughan chose to bring back the heavy mob, rather than someone like Simon Jones who, so it appears, still has to convince his captain that he is a front line bowler when the going gets tough.
As it did with 45 runs coming off 10 overs before Flintoff seemed to have won the match by getting rid of Warne. An unrelieved diet of short stuff persuaded the great spinner to move back and across his stumps, but this time he over did it. He didn't actually tread on the off stump but hit it from the side with his trailing leg.
His 42 was intelligently compiled, underlining that if he had not played such a crass innings first time around, Australia would have won the game. The crowd waited for the coup d'etat with the score now 220 for nine and 62 needed for victory and number 11 Kasprowicz averaging 10 in Test cricket.
England did not lose the plot, rather that it was rewritten by the 10th wicket pair who continued to play in carefree fashion. Lee was felled three or four times by Flintoff, while Kasprowicz visibly grew in confidence. The problem for Vaughan was the run-rate which never dropped below five.
His message to his now frustrated bowlers was that "it only needs one ball," but the arrears began to shrink alarmingly. They dipped under 50, then 30 before came the best chance to win the match. Kasprowicz uppercut one from Harmison to third man where Simon Jones had to run in and dive forward.
He got two hands under the ball but spilled it because of his impetus. It was a difficult catch he might take three times out of 10, but all England wanted was one out of one.
Heads did not go down, even when the runs needed were in single figures. Now the tension had spread to the batsmen and they no longer went for the big shot. The crowd alternated between silence as the bowler ran in to unbridled screaming at any near miss. Still Vaughan stuck with Flintoff and Harmison, with one hit now needed.
In ran Harmison from the Pavilion end and a short one to Kasprowicz was fended at chest height off a glove legside. It was not an easy catch but Jones picked up a good low catch.
The controversial element came from the obligatory dissection by television replay, which suggested that the ball did hit the glove, but the hand was not on the bat at the time - therefore not out.
People who should know better said that such errors even themselves out, but that is missing a point. There were four blatant errors in the game. It is impossible to quantify the effect on a result, depending on when each one occurred and, four wrongs do not make two rights.
Game, set and match to England and the squaring of the series. Utter despair for Australia who came withing a whisker of a 2-0 lead.
The momentum is certainly with England at Old Trafford in three days time BUT - and there is always a but with Australia - Lancashire chief executive Jim Cumbes has already said the pitch will turn.
Australia have Stuart MacGill, and England have Gareth Batty, Graeme Swann and Gary Keedy, but are likely to be unchanged.
England won because of a welcome attacking approach and Flintoff who bailed them out three times with bat and ball. Australia lost because of Ricky Ponting's inexplicable decision to field first, which denied the world's greatest spinner the chance of bowling last on a wearing pitch.
It is rumoured that he made the decision before Glenn McGrath broke down and did not want to send Kasprowicz the wrong decision by changing his mind. It is unlikely that Allan Border or Steve Waugh would have bothered wirth such niceties.
Flintoff's match performance was colossal.
He scored 141 from 146 balls. Match figures of 37.4-4-131-7 made the man of the Match award a formality but, more than that, he wins the ultimate palm for that instinctive gesture to Lee. You don't plan domething like that - it comes instinctively, which is why he is already my Man of the Series.