By Chris Devine
Until the thumping innings-victory at Melbourne during the triumphant 2010-11 tour, England’s last Test win at the MCG could scarcely have been more dramatic.
Already 2-0 down after three matches, Alec Stewart’s side needed to win the Boxing Day Test of 1998 to keep alive their hopes of avoiding a series defeat.
When Australia reached 130 for three in their second innings chasing a target of 175, a home win appeared inevitable.
But it was then that Dean Headley took centre stage, claiming four wickets in 13 balls to inspire his side to a remarkable 12-run triumph.
The Kent seamer finished with figures of 6-60 and ranks the match as the highlight of an international career cruelly curtailed by injury.
“As regards the result it was (the highlight),” he told ecb.co.uk. “It was a very emotional win for us.
“For me personally, the best I bowled was at Sydney in the following Test (he claimed eight wickets in a losing cause), but the accolades you get don’t always go with your best performances.
“I know Darren Gough talks about the Melbourne match as one of his favourite Tests and a lot of people from the Barmy Army still talk about that day.
“I think it’s just the fact that it was so dramatic. The team had been taking a bagging and all of a sudden it turned around. It was euphoric.”
England’s success was achieved in an extraordinary elongated evening session on day four.
An early tea had been taken after the tourists’ second innings had come to an end and, with time to be made up following a first-day washout, play subsequently continued for over four hours after the interval.
At 7.22pm, Australia skipper Steve Waugh opted to claim the extra half hour with his team on 161 for seven - 14 runs short of victory.
It was a decision that infuriated Stewart, although Headley was less concerned by the prospect of playing on.
“We were all knackered so I didn’t have too many thoughts going through my head by that stage,” he admitted.
“There was a lot of adrenaline as we were on the brink of winning. They needed about 14 runs and we needed three wickets. All we knew is that we just needed to get one end up because anything could happen with (Stuart) MacGill and (Glenn) McGrath.”
Headley duly dismissed Matt Nicholson, caught behind by wicketkeeper Warren Hegg, and within moments England were celebrating as MacGill and McGrath departed to Gough without scoring, leaving Waugh stranded on 30 not out.
“I wasn’t one to be jumping around after wins like that because they took so much out of you,” Headley added. “Emotionally, I was gone.
“I think there was just myself and Mark Butcher sat there at the end. Sometimes just taking in the victory that you have had is nice. You don’t always get the chance to savour that.”
England headed to Sydney for the fifth and final Test with renewed belief, but were unable to level the series despite Headley taking four wickets in each innings.
A victory target of 287 proved out of England’s reach, although Headley points to a key moment in Australia’s second innings when Michael Slater benefited from a controversial umpiring decision.
“We played really well in Sydney,” he said. “We took on the Aussies toe-to-toe and I think we were unlucky not to win.
“There was one really poor umpiring decision involving Slater. I’m not saying we would have won, but we rock-and-rolled Australia in that second innings.
“Slater made the only score (123 out of a team total of 184) and he was run out before he got to 30 by a yard, but it was given not out. I’m not talking about a marginal decision - he was miles out! But the umpire got it wrong.
“People say that Australia always dominated us, but if you analyse the games it’s the very little moments that decide whether you win or lose.”
Headley was to play only two more Tests for his country - against New Zealand the following summer - before a back injury forced him to retire in March 2001.
With 60 wickets at an average of less than 28 from 15 appearances, his Test record makes for impressive reading and many feel England were robbed of a bowler who could have spearheaded the attack for several years.
“It was a pretty poor thing to happen to any player really,” admitted the 43-year-old.
“It does get frustrating when you go to dinners and people say, ‘here we have Dean Headley, ex-England bowler, and if it wasn’t for injury he would have been...’
“I might have only got one more Test wicket and only been picked one more time by England, but it could have been 40 or 50 times. It would have been nice to know.
“But you can either look back and commiserate the years you lost, or celebrate the years you had.
“I had some really good fun playing for England and thoroughly enjoyed it.”