There is nothing in cricket, or perhaps in any other sport, that quite compares to the drama of a close Test match finish. All the tension of an evenly-contested battle between bat and ball is hugely amplified by the fact that all the hours – days even – of effort by both sides has led to such a conclusion. The thought that despite the vast amount of cricket played in a game, one side has been unable to decisively break away from the other adds a little something extra, that regardless of all their toil one side will end up with nothing. With well over 2000 matches having been played in the history of the sport, only 12 have ever culminated in a one-wicket victory, 12 times bat has overcome ball by literally the finest of margins. This article takes a look at what transpired on each occasion.
England vs Australia, 11-13 Aug 1902, The Oval
Back at the start of the 20th century, Test cricket may have been in its infancy, but the famed rivalry between England and Australia was already in full swing. By the time the two sides met at the Oval in 1902, Australia had already taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in that year’s series. This, however, did not prevent the Oval Test from being one of the most keenly fought matches ever to have been played at the top level. Hugh Trumble had almost single-handedly given Australia a comfortable lead in the match, hitting 64 not out at number 9 before taking 8 English wickets with his off-breaks to give his side a 141-run lead after two innings. Against all the odds, though, England would have the last laugh. Dismissing Australia for just 121 to get themselves back into the game, they seemed to be down and out at 48 for 5 chasing 263. Yet numbers 7 and 8 Gilbert Jessop and George Hirst made a century and a fifty respectively to push England close to their target. Though Jessop fell with over 70 runs still to get, Hirst and the tail held their nerve to see England home by the skin of their teeth.
South Africa vs England, 2-4 Jan 1906, Johannesburg
Just over 3 years on from their unlikely victory, the English were on the receiving end of a similarly thrilling comeback when they toured South Africa in 1906, facing a side yet to register a victory in Test cricket. It was another low-scoring affair, as although the South Africans would have been buoyed by bowling England out for just 184, with wickets shared between 5 bowlers, their joy was soon to turn to disappointment. The home side were bowled out for a mere 91, with only 3 batsmen making it out of single figures as Walter Lees took 5 wickets for England. South Africa, though, did not roll over, dismissing England for 184 in their second innings, leaving them the still-considerable target of 284 still to make. Their run chase did not start well, either. They lost their first 6 wickets for just 105 runs, with the batsmen doing themselves few favours as they suffered two run-outs. But just as all seemed lost, a century partnership for the seventh wicket between Gordon White and Dave Nourse gave the hosts a glimmer of hope, with each making a fifty in the process. When White fell for 81 the match was truly in the balance, but after two more wickets were lost in quick succession, South Africa were in deep trouble. Unexpectedly though, a last-wicket stand of 47 between Nourse and captain Percy Sherwell was enough to win South Africa the game – and would go on to take the series 4-1.
Australia vs England, 1-6 Jan 1908, Melbourne
Australia and England, back at it once again, played out another closely-fought match in 1908. Though this one took place on Australian soil, as the second Test of an Ashes tour, the result remained the same as England took the match by one wicket. They had started well against Australia, taking regular wickets to limit the home side to 266, with Jack Crawford dismissing 5 batsmen. They followed this up with a strong batting performance. Opening the innings was a young debutant by the name of Jack Hobbs. In a definite sign of things to come, Hobbs batted excellently, making 83 in his first ever Test innings. He was outshone, though, by Kenneth Hutchings, who made a fine century as his side posted 382. Yet Australia were not to be outdone. Their batsmen upped their game in their second innings as five of them made fifties, scoring 397 in total to leave England the tricky target of 282 to win. The tourists faltered in their run chase, as several of their batsmen made starts only to lose their wickets before they could kick on to bigger scores. At 209 for 8 they were certainly up against it, but their ninth- and tenth-wicket partnerships added 34 and 39 runs respectively, as tailender Sydney Barnes followed up a 5-wicket haul in Australia ‘s second innings by hitting the winning runs on the match’s sixth day – timeless Tests were the style back then.
South Africa vs England, 1-4 Jan 1923, Cape Town
It may have been 17 years (to the day) since South Africa overcame England by a solitary wicket in 1906, but England were eventually able to give South Africa a taste of their own medicine in 1923. The game began in similar fashion to the one that had taken place nearly two decades previously, with low scores for both teams first up. South Africa, electing to bat first, were skittled for 113, but England could only manage 183 in response as the ever-consistent Jimmy Blanckenburg took 5 wickets. The home side upped the stakes in their second innings, with Bob Catterall and Herbie Taylor each making fifties to guide them to 157 for 1, before England bowler George Macaulay sparked a batting collapse that left him with five wickets and England 173 runs to win. The ascendancy in the deciding innings lurched from one side to the other with high drama. The English saw off the new ball to reach 20 for no wicket before South African paceman Alf Hall hit his stride to devastating effect, taking five top-order wickets to leave the tourists 6 down with 87 runs still to get. A strong seventh-wicket partnership between skipper Frank Mann and useful all-rounder Vallance Jupp seemed to set England right, guiding them to within 20 runs of their target before the match took yet another twist. Two more wickets for Hall, along with a run-out, left England 9 down. The tail though just about managed the five runs needed for victory, with England ‘s hero with the ball Macaulay hitting the winning run.
Australia vs West Indies, 31 Dec 1951-1 Jan 1952, Melbourne
The series between West Indies and Australia in 1951-52 – only the second time the two sides had ever met in Test cricket and the first in over 20 years – was on a knife edge. Going into the fourth Test of the series the score was poised at 2-1, with the tourists winning the previous match to get themselves back into the contest. Windies icon Frank Worrell clearly capitalised on his side’s recent momentum, scoring an emphatic century as his side posted 272 first up, as Keith Miller took 5 wickets. Australia struggled in response, bailed out only by a century partnership from Miller and Neil Harvey as they conceded a first-innings lead of 56. Indeed, though the West Indies showed promise in their second innings, they failed to truly press home their advantage. Though Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Gerry Gomez each made half-centuries, too many batsmen got themselves in only to be dismissed, as they were bowled out for 203 to set Australia 260 to win. The home side began their run chase competently, and when captain Lindsay Hassett returned to the crease at 23 not out at the start of the fourth day, he would have felt the weight of expectation upon his shoulders to put the game and the series to bed. He responded with a captain’s innings, scoring a century while wickets tumbled around him to shepherd his team close to victory. Yet when Australia had a late wobble, thanks in large part to the excellent West Indian slow left-armer Alf Valentine, who helped reduce them from 218 for 6 to 222 for 9, all seemed to be lost. With everything at stake, the last wicket pair of Doug Ring and Bill Johnston pulled off the unlikeliest of rescue acts, putting on an unbeaten partnership of 38 to win Australia the match and the series.
New Zealand vs West Indies, 8-13 Feb 1980, Dunedin
The West Indian side that came to New Zealand in 1980 may have been a force to be reckoned with, but the hosts, featuring one of the all-time greats in Richard Hadlee, proved they were no pushovers in this dramatic showdown. Indeed, Hadlee proved early on just what a talent he was, taking 5 wickets to limit the West Indies to just 140, with only Desmond Haynes offering any substantial resistance with a gritty fifty. New Zealand also proved that the pitch was a tricky one for the batsmen as their line-up faced similar struggles, but important half-centuries from Brian Edgar and Hadlee – demonstrating his all-round ability – ensured they ended their innings with a lead of over 100 runs. The West Indies, well behind in what was shaping up to be a low-scoring game, would once again have folded quickly had it not been for Haynes. While his team-mates were being terrorised by – who else – Hadlee, who ended up with 6 wickets in the innings, Haynes played out a determined century, lasting more than 7 hours and constituting almost half of his side’s total score of 212. Despite his best efforts, though, the Black Caps were left with a mere 104 to chase. Yet though it may have seemed simple on paper, the home batsmen had to contend with a difficult wicket and an awe-inspiring pace attack. Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner relentlessly peppered the batsmen as wickets tumbled, with the bowlers only fired up by what can be described as some questionable umpiring decisions in favour of the home side. The sixth wicket fell for just 44 runs, the seventh 10 runs later, and when the key wicket of Hadlee was taken, New Zealand still needed 31 runs to win. Their tailenders, however, succeeded where their top order had failed. After Lance Cairns was dismissed for an important 19, numbers 10 and 11 Gary Stroup and Stephen Boock managed the four runs required for victory as their side inched over the line. What had appeared a routine run chase had become anything but, only making the New Zealanders joy more palpable when they finally made it.
Pakistan vs Australia, 28 Sep-2 Oct 1994, Karachi
The Pakistani and Australian sides that played out a thriller for the ages were among the strongest in their sides’ histories. The home team boasted a team containing Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim and Waqar, while the tourists’ line-up featured the Waugh brothers, Warne and McGrath. It was the latter, though, that took the ascendancy early on. Winning the toss and choosing to bat, the Australians posted the decent total of 337 first up, thanks in large part to important middle-order fifties from debutant Michael Bevan, Steve Waugh and Ian Healy. A stylish 85 from Anwar meant that Pakistan’s response began well, but their middle order crumbled after he was dismissed by off-spinner Tim May. Their eventual total of 256, only reached thanks to some late hitting from Wasim Akram, meant they conceded a lead of 81 runs. Australia appeared to be pressing home this advantage to good effect, with a century stand between David Boon – who would go on to make an unbeaten century – and Mark Waugh easing them into 171 for 2 late on the third day. Wasim and Waqar, though, were never to be discounted. With devastating spells during the evening and the following morning, they skittled the Australians for 232, with Wasim claiming 5 wickets and Waqar 4. Pegging Australia back had been a great effort, but the bulk of the work was still to come: chasing down 314 on a spinning wicket against the prodigious talent of Warne and his team-mates. Anwar got Pakistan off to a good start once again as he made 77, but Warne soon struck back. He took four wickets to reduce the home side to 184 for 7, with 130 still to make. It looked like time was up for Pakistan, but Inzamam had other ideas. Batting brilliantly with the tail, including making a fifty partnership with last man Mushtaq Ahmed, he inched his side closer and closer to the target. With just 3 runs to get though, the drama reached its peak. Warne bowled an unplayable delivery to Inzamam, who, outside his crease, was beaten all ends up. Yet wicketkeeper Ian Healy, presented with the stumping chance that would have won the game for his team, managed to miss the ball completely. The ball went straight through him and away for four byes, as Pakistan managed to sneak home in the most unbelievable of circumstances.
West Indies vs Australia, 26-30 Mar 1999, Bridgetown
To any West Indian fan, this Bridgetown Test needs no introduction. Rightly considered among the great cricket matches, it is memorable for fine performances on both sides, a remarkable comeback, and of course the necessary tight finish that left one unfortunate player with a nasty sense of deja vu. Batting first, the Australians seemed to be in considerably more trouble at 36 for 3 than they were the best part of two days’ play later when they cruised to 425 for 4, thanks to centuries from Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Though they suffered a late collapse, their eventual total of 490 seemed to be nigh on unassailable. Though the West Indies batted admirably when they finally got their chance, their 329 all out – of which opener Sherwin Campbell’s 105 was a definite highlight – still left them with a hefty deficit. Though where their defeat in Karachi half a decade previously was sparked by Wasim and Waqar, here the Australians were undone by a similarly capable bowling partnership: Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. The former took five wickets to blast out the tourists for just 146, leaving the West Indies a tough run chase of 308. The finale was high in drama, with each team looking in good positions at certain points only to have the upper hand snatched away from them. 72 for no wicket became 105 for 5, before a hefty rebuilding effort saw the West Indies reach 238 for 5, only for that effort to be scotched as they lost 3 more wickets for 10 runs. Seemingly the only permanents in an innings of great change were the two legendary figures who went head to head: Brian Lara, who made the most sublime of centuries, and Glenn McGrath, who claimed 5 wickets. Lara would win the day, though, putting on a crucial fifty partnership with number 10 Ambrose and seeing his side to victory alongside last man Walsh. There had been a late twist, however, as Ian Healy dropped Lara with 7 runs still to get. Once again, the normally sublime wicketkeeper became the unlucky fall guy for a 1-wicket defeat.
West Indies vs Pakistan 25-29 May 2000, St John
Just over a year after their famous victory over Australia, the West Indies were at it again, this time against a touring Pakistan side. This time, however, they managed it without the talismanic Brian Lara, who was out due to injury. New captain Jimmy Adams won the toss and put Pakistan in to bat, and though they lost wickets regularly they were bailed out by a fine century from Yousuf Youhana, who guided them to 269 all out. The West Indies fared almost identically with the bat, as half-centuries from Shivnarine Chanderpaul and skipper Adams led the way to a total of 273, as Wasim Akram took 6 wickets. With just four runs between the teams it was anyone’s match – it would remain so close right until the final denouement. Pakistan’s second innings failed to properly get going, as all the West Indian bowlers contributed wickets to limit them to 219 as Inzamam made a solitary half-century. The West Indian run chase recovered from a shaky start to assume a strong position as Adams and Wavell Hinds shared a 60-run stand for the fourth wicket. When Wasim struck to remove Hinds, though, as one of the 11 wickets he would take in the match, all bets were off. No other batsman would go on to reach double figures, but all helped to chip away at the target alongside the ever-dogged Adams. After the ninth wicket fell with 19 runs still to make, the drama increased even further. Last man Courtney Walsh was lucky not to be given out caught when he appeared to give a bat-pad catch to short leg, while Saqlain Mushtaq missed a simple run-out opportunity – either would have won the game for Pakistan. As it was, Adams was the hero, as his innings of 48 not out, lasting over five and a half hours, was just enough to see his side to victory.
Pakistan vs Bangladesh, 3-6 Sep 2003, Multan
As Bangladesh went into the last match of an already-lost series against Pakistan, a glance at their Test record would have made clear how torrid a time the team had had since gaining Test status: 23 games played, with no wins, one draw and 22 defeats. In this match, though, they would take a well-established Pakistani side right down to the wire. Opting to bat first, Bangladesh had a steady first innings with contributions from several players, with captain Habibul Bashar’s 72 the standout performance. Their total of 281 would end up giving them a 106-run lead over Pakistan, who were rolled over for just 175 thanks to Mohammad Rafique’s five-for. The home side were not about to surrender so easily, however, as their bowlers came roaring back to peg back Bangladesh, dismissing their top order cheaply. Batsman Alok Kapali was unfortunate to be on the receiving end of a particularly poor decision, having been given out despite Pakistani wicketkeeper Rashid Latif clearly dropping the ball. Only a key 42 from Rajin Saleh and some useful contributions from the lower order kept them afloat as they limped to 154 all out, leaving Pakistan a target of 261 to win. Their chase did not start well, as they lost regular wickets to fall to 164 for 7. Only Inzamam-ul-Haq, the hero against Australia nearly a decade previously, stood tall, scoring one of the finest centuries of his career. Partnered by obdurate tail-enders, he managed to pull off an incredible turnaround, hitting the winning runs with only last man Yasir Ali for company. The Bangladeshi players were understandably devastated having come so close, and would have to wait until 2005 for their first victory, but the day belonged to Inzamam.
Sri Lanka vs South Africa, 4-8 Aug 2006, Colombo
The two sides may only have contested a two-match series, but it was one packed with some of Sri Lankan cricket’s most memorable moments. In the first game, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara cemented their places as bona fide greats by compiling Test cricket’s largest ever partnership, of 624 runs. The second Test, of course, was a far closer affair. South Africa recovered from losing both openers for ducks to post a creditable 361, with Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers both falling just short of centuries. Sri Lanka’s top order were nowhere near as solid, falling to 86 for 5 as South African quicks Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn proved a constant threat. They needed the lower order to bail them out, with Chamara Kapugedara, Farveez Maharoof and Chaminda Vaas all making fifties to keep their side in the game, conceding a 40-run first-innings lead when it could have been far worse. South Africa, though, kept the pressure on as Herschelle Gibbs made a resolute 92 and Mark Boucher 65 in their second innings. As always, Sri Lanka’s key man with the ball was Muttiah Muralitharan, who took 7 wickets in the innings to take his match total to 12, as the tourists were bowled out for 311. The target of 352 may have seemed a tall order for Sri Lanka to chase to win the series, but if anyone could do it, it was surely the man who had scored a triple century in the previous Test. Sanath Jayasuriya got the innings going with a characteristically aggressive 73, but he was outshone by the unparalleled Jayawardene. Given the situation of the match, the century he made has to be considered among his greatest ever. Making South Africa pay for dropping him in single figures, he batted magnificently to get his side within touching distance of a famous victory. Fittingly, though, there was to be late drama. With 11 runs to get and 4 wickets still in hand, Jayawardene went for a lusty blow off Nicky Boje but could only edge to slip, giving South Africa a glimmer of hope. Panic set in for Sri Lanka a two more wickets fell, but number 11 Lasith Malinga managed to hold his nerve, sneaking a single off his first ball to win an epic for Sri Lanka.
India vs Australia, 1-5 Oct 2010, Mohali
The most recent of these classic matches took place 8 years ago, as an Australian side in transition took on an ageing but strong India. Australia’s 428 first up, led by a century from Shane Watson and 92 from Tim Paine, was almost matched by India, for whom Sachin Tendulkar made 98 and Virender Sehwag, Rahul David and Suresh Raina also added meaningful contributions. A draw seemed on the cards until the fourth day, when the pitch – and the match with it – suddenly sprung into life. Australia fell from 87 for no wicket to 192 all out, leaving India a target of 216. Yet India’s chase began very poorly as Australian pacemen Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger tore through the Indian top order, leaving them 124 for 8 before lunch on the final day. It was left to VVS Laxman, a fine batsman but nursing such a bad back injury that he had only been able to bat at number 10 in the first innings, to save the day. Together with tailender Ishant Sharma, who made a remarkably obdurate 31, Laxman made a fine counter-attacking half-century to push India onwards. Though Sharma was controversially given out lbw with 11 runs still to get, Laxman and last man Pragyan Ojha just about saw India over the line.