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Legendary matches that would have been worth watching live
February 13, 2012
Like many other cricket fans, I suspect, I'd love to have been there when Bodyline kicked off, just to see what all the fuss was about. And the battle between Harold Larwood and Don Bradman - and Larwood and the other Aussie batsmen too - would have been one to savour. If I had to pick one match from the series it would be the third Test, in Adelaide, which was the one in which feelings ran the highest: it was touch and go whether the crowd would storm the pitch at one point. "Not to put too fine a point on it, pandemonium reigned," sighed Wisden. "Altogether the whole atmosphere was a disgrace to cricket."
Australia v West Indies, 1960-61
If the Tardis couldn't quite manage 1932-33, I'd love to have watched the seminal "Calypso" series that revitalised Test cricket after the largely colourless 1950s. With two like-minded captains - Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell - seeking to entertain, this classic series started with Test cricket's first tie, in Brisbane. But there were two other nail-biting finishes too: in the fourth Test, in Adelaide, Australia's last pair (the ungainly Ken Mackay and the unheralded Lindsay Kline) hung on for almost two hours to deny West Indies a victory that would have given them a 2-1 lead. And then, in the final Test, in Melbourne, Australia crept to their target of 258 - and stole the series - with just two wickets left.
Australia v South Africa, Edgbaston, 1999
The 1999 World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston had it all: violent swings of fortune, and the tightest possible finish. "It was a compressed epic all the way through," said Wisden, "and it ended in a savage twist." Australia looked forlorn after making only 213, but Shane Warne dragged them back into it with four wickets, including a replica of his legendary 1993 "Gatting ball", this time to bowl Herschelle Gibbs. Now South Africa were on the ropes, but Lance Klusener pummelled some quick runs, only to fall short at the last, when Allan Donald was run out. It was a tie - but not really, as Australia went on to the final thanks to a superior net run rate in the second group phase.
England v Australia, The Oval, 1882
It would be fun to drop in on the match that started the Ashes legend, after Australia's narrow victory in a climax so exciting that one spectator apparently had a heart attack and another chewed right through his umbrella handle. And who could resist a chance to see the batting of WG Grace, or the bowling of "The Demon" Spofforth - who took 7 for 44 as England, chasing only 85, were skittled for 77 (of which WG made 32)?
India v Australia, Kolkata, 2000-01
In the just days before wall-to-wall TV and web coverage, the extraordinary turnaround in Kolkata early in 2001 would have been a delight to witness first-hand. Australia were pressing for a world-record 17th successive Test victory, and it looked like business as usual when India followed on: they slipped to 115 for 3 when Sachin Tendulkar was out. And then, after some resistance from Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman took over: he scored 281, and put on 376 with the unsinkable Rahul Dravid, turning a deficit of 42 when they came together into a very handy lead. Australia eventually needed 384, and never got close. Harbhajan Singh, who had taken India's first-ever Test hat-trick in the first innings, took six more wickets to finish with 13 in the match.
England v Australia, Old Trafford, 1956
This one's for all the bowlers out there: the match in which Jim Laker took 19 wickets, figures that haven't really been threatened since in first-class cricket, let alone Tests. I'd like to see whether the pitch was as bad as people (especially Australians) say... and try to work out how, on a helpful pitch, poor old Tony Lock managed only one wicket while his county colleague scooped up the rest.
South Africa v Australia, 1969-70
The debate over the strongest Test side of them all usually takes in the Aussies of 1921, 1948 and the early 2000s, and includes a few West Indian sides of the 1980s. But the South Africans of 1970 might have gone on to match them had politics not stepped in and denied them further chances. They walloped Australia 4-0 early that year, and as the saying goes, Australia were lucky to get nil. South Africa did have home advantage, and they didn't have a spinner, but they did have the sublime batsmanship of Barry Richards (who averaged 72 in his only Test series) and Graeme Pollock; the fast bowling of Mike Procter and Peter Pollock; and the bullish allrounder Eddie Barlow. Those five also played for the Rest of the World against England later in 1970, in a series that was hastily arranged when South Africa's tour of England was cancelled, beginning their 22-year isolation from official international cricket.
Australia v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2005-06
A day which produced 872 runs? Bowlers might want to watch it from behind the sofa, but as a display of relentless hitting it's hard to beat. With their one-day series tied at 2-2, Australia hammered 434 in the decider in Johannesburg, and looked home and hosed. But Jacques Kallis perked up the South African dressing room by joking "Come on guys, it's a 450 wicket - they're 15 short!" And he was right: his side somehow chased down the runs, Herschelle Gibbs hitting 175 before Mark Boucher spanked the penultimate ball for the winning boundary. The previous ODI aggregate record of 693 had been blown away.
India v Pakistan, Bangalore, 1986-87
There's nothing quite like the tension of an India-Pakistan match, and one of the closest was in Bangalore in March 1987. It was the fifth Test of a series that was still deadlocked as a no-score-draw, but there was always going to be a result here after Pakistan collapsed for 116 and India managed only 145. "The pitch, so encouraging to spin bowling, provided a match of riveting theatre," observed Wisden. Imran Khan battled for more than two hours to help set a target of 221, then Sunil Gavaskar - in what turned out to be his final Test innings - got to work. No one else in the match managed more than 50, but Gavaskar put his head down for five hours and 20 minutes before finally being given out to slow left-armer Iqbal Qasim for a superb 96 ("a wrong umpiring decision," lamented the Indian slow left-armer Maninder Singh, who had taken 7 for 27 in Pakistan's first innings, and later became an umpire himself). The tail couldn't produce a miracle: Pakistan squeaked home by 16 runs, and won a series in India for the first time.
England v Australia, 1948
They have become known as the "Invincibles". The 1948 Australian touring team in England had a peerless new-ball attack, in the relentless Ray Lindwall and the glamorous Keith Miller; they had superb batsmen like Arthur Morris, Sid Barnes, Lindsay Hassett and the young Neil Harvey, and several eager back-up players too. Oh, and they also had Don Bradman, who resolved early on that his final tour of England (he was 39 then) would be a bit special: his side didn't lose a single match on tour (and they played 31 first-class games, including the five Tests). England had a pretty handy side too, with the likes of Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Godfrey Evans, Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey... but they still lost 4-0.
Australia v England, Melbourne, 1976-77
This match, to celebrate the centenary of Test cricket, was a gripping one. After a nervous start by both sides at the MCG, things settled down and England made a spirited attempt at their lofty target of 463, Derek Randall leading the way with 174. Finally Dennis Lillee - another bowler worth going an awful long way to watch - wrapped things up with his tenth wicket, making statisticians squirm with delight when they realised the result was identical (Australia won by 45 runs) to the match in 1876-77 that it was commemorating. But for all the on-field drama, there was almost more off the pitch, as every surviving player from an Ashes Test had been invited to attend. It was therefore apparently almost impossible to walk round a corner without bumping into some sort of legend. It was probably cricket's greatest social occasion, and the match was well worth watching too. In fact, I'm going to look for the video now.
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.Feeds: Steven Lynch
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