Getting away with it
You'd describe it as a remake of the Great Escape, except in the original the plucky Englishmen don't get away with it.
Quite how England dug their way out of Stalag Ponting will have their Australian prison guards scratching their heads for years to come.
They were goners, finished, handcuffed to the wall and waiting for the firing squad to put them out of their misery.
At 12.20pm, they were 70-5, still 169 runs in arrears with the weather set fair and 70 overs left in the day. With three hours and 40 overs to go, they were 159-7. Then they were nine down, still behind and with 69 balls to survive.
It shouldn't make sense. It shouldn't have happened. A lot of people still can't believe it did.
If the starring role went to Paul Collingwood for his epic five-and-a-half hour turn as a brick wall, the supporting cast as the drama reached its final act was almost as laudable.
James Anderson, inspired by the ghost of Trevor Bailey, blocking and blocking for 53 balls and 72 minutes. Graeme Swann, wearing bouncers on his body with grim determination. And while not even the most maverick director would cast Monty Panesar as the ideal getaway driver, as the sun sank low in Cardiff he was being garlanded for the bravest performance of his career.
Memories of Old Trafford in 2005 came flooding back. Then it was Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath who hung on the death - but that was for 24 balls. That Anderson and Panesar survived for almost three times as long left the Welsh crowd cavorting and crowing as if England had pulled off a famous victory.
They didn't. For 11 of the 14 sessions, they were dominated by a superior Australian side who did all the small things better and most of the big ones, too. Without the rain that wiped out Saturday's evening session, England would almost certainly have lost.
Despite all that, they go to Lord's for the start of the second Test on Thursday still at parity in this Ashes series. No wonder Ricky Ponting looked like he wanted to bite clean through the bottle of champagne he was given as man of the match.
It had been an utterly dismal morning for England, without a hint of the dramas to follow. Any early optimism had been punctured like a harpooned hot-air balloon when Kevin Pietersen's unprotected off stump was pinged backwards by Ben Hilfenhaus's straight one.
If that moment shocked the Cardiff crowd, there was something horribly predictable about the dismissal of Andrew Strauss, caught behind cutting at Nathan Hauritz the ball after hitting the same bowler for four. It might have been adrenaline, or a desire to be positive, but it felt like a cheap way for the captain's wicket to fall.
Matt Prior's shot was even worse. At a time when Collingwood was prepared to sweat blood to remain at the crease, Prior tossed his wicket away with a shot that had Geoff Boycott on the brink of smashing the window of the Test Match Special commentary box and marching across the outfield to clout him round the head.
At that stage, the mood in the ground among England's supporters had moved beyond dismay to anger. Then to laughter. Lists were drawn up of the most depressing England displays of all time - Adelaide 2006, Port-of-Spain in 1994, Zimbabwe 1996, Holland at Lord's last month.
At lunchtime, a tenor came on to the outfield to sing a pre-arranged version of Land of Hope and Glory. The irony was as bitter as coffee grounds. It would have been more fitting had the singer grabbed the microphone and blown a big, fat raspberry for four-minutes.
Even midway through the afternoon, England's fate appeared sealed. Andrew Flintoff stuck around for a while but nicked one to Ponting at second slip; Collingwood went 44 minutes without scoring a run.
It was only as partnerships slowly took root in the barren soil that hope began to grow. Stuart Broad stuck around to add 32 for the seventh wicket, Swann 62 for the eighth. For the home supporters, it almost made things worse.
"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand."
So says John Cleese's character, Brian Stimpson, in the 1986 farce Clockwise. On reflection, he had things easy.
He only had to deal with missed trains, car breakdowns and becoming a fugitive from the police. England fans had to watch Collingwood nurdle and dead-bat their team gradually back from the brink, allowing outlandish optimism to bloom and then just as suddenly wither when he played his only loose shot of the day to fall with 11 overs left.
Collingwood sunk to his knees when Mike Hussey took the catch at backward point. So did most people in the place. It felt like the cruellest way for the fatal blow to be delivered.
That should have been the signal for the credits to roll, but Anderson and Panesar were reading from a different script.
Every run was cheered, and then every dot ball. Ponting, having puzzlingly persisted with Mitchell Johnson despite a woeful spell of wides and leave-alones, then switched to part-time spinner Marcus North. Hilfenhaus, the pick of the day's bowlers, was left chewing his nails in the deep.
Hands hid faces. Fingers flicked through playing regulations. When Anderson flayed successive fours of Peter Siddle's attempted yorkers, England were ahead - two more overs knocked off.
There was still time for Australia to win. A wicket and they could have had an over, maybe two, to score 15 and snatch victory.
It never came. The England pair stood firm. Australian heads sunk in disbelief.
Whether this extraordinary denouement makes any difference to the final series score is difficult to say.
Australia were streets ahead in almost every department, England abject. Logically, there's only one team that should be feeling good about themselves as they head back across the Severn.
Then again, momentum can be a funny thing. So can confidence. England, down all match, finished on the up, Australia on the down. The series is alive.