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Belief carrying England towards historic triumph

When belief is all you have, belief is all you need.

Yes, there is the hype of England’s Bazball revolution, but simple cricketing logic says that chasing 378 to beat India in the fifth Test is a ridiculous proposition.

For everything England have achieved in a new era that is still only five weeks old, there was a nagging sense that certain things played into their hands in the series win over New Zealand.

A Colin de Grandhomme no-ball, an injury to Kyle Jamieson, flat pitches, the Black Caps relying on Trent Boult to take pretty much all of their wickets in the third Test.

Yes, England were blisteringly brilliant, but New Zealand were the perfect dance partners. India would not fall for the same tricks – too skilful, too wily, too good.

And yet.

This England team have injected positivity into the veins of the game in this country. They have swept us along for a magical ride and made the impossible not only possible, but normal.

On a manic Monday at Edgbaston, Birmingham believed and England set up the prospect of one of the greatest wins in their history. By reaching 259-3, they are closing in on a record run chase for England in Tests and the ninth-highest in the history of the game.

This is the ground of Ian Botham in 1981 (the sequel to his Headingley heroics) and the Ashes heart-stopper of 2005. If England are to complete victory on Tuesday, this win would join those in the pantheon of Midlands miracles.

For as impressive as England’s accomplishments have been and as alluring as their words have sounded, this would stretch the bounds of credulity.

Coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes have encouraged us to worship at the altar of positivity, yet it is hard to freely give in.

After all, this is largely the same group of players who were miserably walloped over 18 months, returning a measly one win in 17 games. Any hope invested in England was only returned with pain, misery and disappointment.

The disciples have spread the word. Just this week assistant coach Paul Collingwood insisted England were not scared of anything they would have to chase in the fourth innings, James Anderson told us that attack would be the best form of defence and Jonny Bairstow asserted they would pursue whatever target is set.

“Why not?” said Bairstow.

There are 378 reasons why not, but to consider the possibility of failure is a betrayal of the McCullum-Stokes philosophy, tantamount to cricketing blasphemy.

So, as England set about their mammoth task, Edgbaston became a sporting cathedral, full of worshippers drinking in the good news and the warm ale.

India had already been suckered in by England’s force of will in being bowled out earlier in the day. Bouncers that should have posed no threat were obligingly helped to waiting catchers, before the tourists were ambushed by home openers Alex Lees and Zak Crawley.

Lees’ nickname used to be ‘Haydos’, after the Australia great Matthew Hayden. Here he was batting like a modern-day Marcus Trescothick, plonking down a big front foot to bully the pace bowlers, then sweeping and reverse-sweeping the spin of Ravindra Jadeja.

Crawley has been the last England batter to thrive this summer, but it was in keeping with the mantra to back every player to the hilt when Stokes said prior to this Test that the Kent man will be given as many chances as he needs.

When he nicked off yet again in the first innings, Stokes’ support felt misplaced, only for Crawley to show that he is finally learning. He showed care in leaving the ball and only played his trademark drives after a lengthy period at the crease.

Given the quality of his judgement, it felt cruel that he was bowled shouldering arms to Jasprit Bumrah.

England could have been derailed in 16 balls of chaos, their faith tested by three wickets for two runs. Virat Kohli, all pumping fists and howls of delight, was the devil on the shoulder.

Still, in Bairstow and Joe Root, England have two of the form batters in Test cricket, and their freewheeling recovery frazzled the Indians. Two dropped catches, two burned reviews.

By the end, with England only 119 short of their target, India were begging to be dragged off.

It left a tantalising proposition, a finale that will be played out in front of a full congregation that has taken advantage of another wonderful new trend in English cricket – free tickets on the fifth day.

Amazingly, given the enormity of the target, England will enter the final day as favourites, but India are only a couple of balls from wrecking the dream.

Even if England do fall short, they have covered themselves in glory and given another little gift to a public that is falling in love with them all over again.

But to contemplate defeat is not the way to win.

All you have to do is believe.

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