Ben Stokes was the inevitable hero once more this week as England beat South Africa in the Second Test at Newlands to level the series at 1-1. But the man of the moment had a helping hand from Zak Crawley along the way,
The 21-year-old Kent star produced a terrific rebound catch with England needing two wickets to win, initial palming Anrich Nortje’s edge into the air with his right hand before miraculously bringing it to comfort with his left. It was a stunning reflex action in the dying moments of an absorbing day of cricket and will live long in the memory.
It is far from the first stunning catch the sporting world has seen, though.
Odell Beckham Jr. - NFL
As DJ Khaled expressed so eloquently: “Odell Beckham, respect him, you can't check him.” OBJ launched himself (literally) into the sporting stratosphere with this Internet-breaking moment in 2014. In his debut NFL season with the New York Giants, the wide receiver stunned the MetLife Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys, and the watching world. On the first play of the second quarter, the then-22-year-old produced a mind-bending one-handed catch - falling backwards - from a 43-yard pass to give the Giants a 14-3 lead. It is one of the most iconic moments of recent NFL history that has transcended the sport.
You could hear the sheer disbelief in commentator Cris Collinsworth’s voice as he declared upon witnessing the magical moment: “That is absolutely impossible what he just did. That may be the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in my life.” Sometimes a particular move or method becomes synonymous with an individual: think the Cruyff turn, Fosbury Flop, the Ali Shuffle. Whenever this catch is ever replicated, there’ll be whispers of three little letters: O.B.J
On November 23rd, 2014, Odell Beckham Jr. burst onto the scene with arguably the greatest catch in NFL history. “Odell” turned into a verb, and this catch was even prominently displayed on the cover of Madden. Legendary.
Ken Griffey Jr. - Baseball
Ken Griffey Jr is a bonafide baseball don. The recipient of 10 consecutive Golden Gloves through the 1990s for exceptional fielding performances, numerous plays could have been recorded in this list. We’re opting for the center-fielder’s almost wrist-breaking catch into the Kingdome wall for the Seattle Mariners in 1991 when denying Rob Sierra of the Texas Rangers an extra-base hit. There was no stopping Griffey as he launched himself into the boundary with just one thing on his mind - collecting the ball in that glove.
Griffey was left in visible agony after the feat of athleticism, and he would shatter his wrist four years later following another similarly exuberant play.
Paolo Di Canio - Football
A divisive character if ever there was one. To take a well-known footballing mantra in order to describe Mr. Paolo Di Canio: hated, adored, hard to ignore.
But the Italian gained a whole host of admirers for his antics against Everton in 2000. Playing for West Ham, Di Canio produced not a world-class goal but an exemplary act of sportsmanship the like of which has rarely been seen at the top level of the English game.
With the scores tied at 1-1 approaching injury time at Goodison Park, the striker had the opportunity to net a winner for the visiting side after Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard crumbled to the floor yards out of his area with a dislocated knee. Rather than take his chance to net a virtually-unopposed clincher, Di Canio caught the ball and summoned help for the stricken Gerrard.
Supporters of the Merseyside club subsequently provided Di Canio a standing ovation, and he was later given a FIFA Fair Play Award for his actions. His sportsmanship wasn’t as easily swallowed by members of his camp, including gaffer Harry Redknapp and teammate Stuart Pearce.
"My God, the day he caught the ball at Everton with five minutes to go...We needed the points badly and instead of heading it in, he catches the ball so Gerrard can get treatment,” said Redknapp years later.
“I’ve come off at the end and I’m like, ‘What’s he done?’ Stuart Pearce comes thundering into the dressing room and says: ‘Don’t let me near him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’m going to rip his head off!’
"Two minutes later I’ve got to do an interview live on Sky and the guy says to me: ‘What a great day for football.’
"I’m going: ‘Oh yeah, yes of course, wonderful’ – but we want to kill him, really."
LeBron James - Basketball
We go back across the pond to the USA for the most recent moment on this list and another reason why LeBron James can truly be considered one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of sneakers and take to the maple court. In November 2019, James was enjoying life on the west coast after moving on once again from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 off-season, opting to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Playing away to the Oklahoma City Thunder, James provided another exhibition of genius. We’re going to go out on a limb and call it an ‘OBJ’. Receiving the ball high, James was at full arm and finger stretch to claim a long pass and propel it to teammate Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a second-quarter buzzer-beating three-pointer. The Lakers would claim a 130-127 win, with the evergreen James registering 23 points and 14 assists.
Dwayne Leverock - Cricket
To slightly paraphrase Magnus Magnusson, we’ve started (with cricket), so we’ll finish (with cricket). Specifically, the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. Events such as this are where heroes are truly born, and in the Caribbean it was the turn of a Bermudan, one Russell Dwayne Mark Leverock.
Dwayne Leverock strolled onto the cricket pitch as a very large man. A full 20 stones worth of man.
In a game full of professionals and a wealth of worldly experience, Leverock helped epitomised the grit and determination of the plucky Bermuda amateur national side that were nestled alongside heavyweights Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.
Leverock had taken the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara in their opening game but it was against India that he provided the prevailing image that still warms the cockles today, with every pound of that 20-stone frame coming crashing to the turf as he caught out Robin Uthappa in the second over of the game. In addition, and even more remarkably, though he is left-handed, Leverock managed to catch it with his right at full stretch. Every bit as stunning was his ungainly sprint around half of the field in celebration.
India would go on to win by 257 runs, and Bermuda would finish bottom of their group without a single win from their three matches.
That catch, however, has lived far longer in the memory, and in hearts.