October 22, 2012

You gave us such a start

Players who defined a series by the way they began it

Saeed Ajmal
Top-ranked England were arguably favourites going into the series against Pakistan in the UAE earlier this year... but Ajmal soon changed that. In the first innings of the first Test in Dubai he took 7 for 55, mesmerising the batsmen with a crafty mixture of offbreaks and doosras. He took three more in the second innings, and finished the series with 24 wickets at 14.70, as Pakistan completed a devastating 3-0 clean sweep.

Ian Botham
It was memorably claimed in the build-up to the 1986-87 Ashes series that there were only three things the England tourists couldn't do: bat, bowl or field (and this was from an English journalist!). But that forecast proved to be rather wide of the mark, as England made 456 in the first innings of the series in Brisbane, the highlight a rollicking 138 from Botham, who slammed 13 fours and four sixes, and took 22 off one over from the young Merv Hughes. England never looked back, and secured the Ashes with an innings victory in Melbourne.

Richard Hadlee
New Zealand had never won a Test in Australia before their 1985-86 tour - but a one-man demolition job set up a crushing victory in the first match in Brisbane. Hadlee took 9 for 52, and caught the other one. New Zealand replied with 553, Martin Crowe scoring 188, and went on to win by an innings. Hadlee was in irresistible form in the series, which New Zealand eventually won 2-1, taking 33 wickets: only George Lohmann, with 35 on the mats in South Africa in 1895-96, had taken more in a three-Test rubber.

Don Bradman
The great Bradman was undecided about returning to Test cricket after the Second World War: he was 38 by the time of the 1946-47 Ashes, and hadn't been in the greatest of health. He decided to play... and made 187 in the first Test in Brisbane. Australia won that one, went on to take the series 3-0, and the Don was encouraged to take charge of what is remembered as the "Invincibles" tour of England in 1948. History might have been very different, though, had Bradman been given out early on, after making his way unconvincingly to 28: all the England players were convinced he'd given a catch to slip, but Bradman (and, crucially, the umpire) thought it was a bump ball. "A fine bloody way to start a Test series," observed England's captain Wally Hammond to Bradman shortly after the incident.

Viv Richards
The England captain Tony Greig's ill-advised threat to make the West Indies "grovel" was shoved down his throat at the earliest opportunity in 1976, when Richards stroked a superb 232 in the first Test at Trent Bridge. England's bowlers did a fair bit of grovelling over the rest of that five-match series, which West Indies romped 3-0: Richards, who also made 291 at The Oval, piled up 829 runs, even though he missed one match through illness.

Abdul Qadir
England started the 1987-88 series in Pakistan in upbeat mode: they'd just reached the World Cup final, losing out to Australia in a tight finish. But they were soon on the back foot in Lahore, where Qadir took 9 for 56 in the first innings. He took four more as England were shot out again for 130: Pakistan won by an innings, and sat on their lead for the rest of a series bedevilled by umpiring controversies. The famous spat between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana happened in the second Test, but many felt that Qadir - who finished the three-match series with 30 wickets - had been helped by some compliant officiating too.

Greg Chappell
Chappell faced a tough task in taking over the Australian captaincy from his brother Ian (who remained in the side) for the home series against West Indies in 1975-76. But he made a superb 123 in the first innings in Brisbane, and an unbeaten 109, to take his side to victory in the second. "It was as well as I ever batted in my career," he said. West Indies were on the verge of becoming the world's leading side - but Chappell led Australia to a 5-1 victory in that series.

Virender Sehwag
Series between India and Pakistan always have a special edge. India started the 2003-04 rubber in Pakistan never having won a Test there, in 49 years of trying: but Sehwag changed all that, with a rocket-powered innings of 309, India's first triple-century. He hit six sixes in all, including the strokes that took him past 100 and 300. His assault - and his stand of 336 with Sachin Tendulkar - set up an innings victory to kick off a series India eventually won 2-1. Sehwag's second triple-century, 319 against South Africa in 2007-08, also came in the first Test of a series.

Chris Gayle
After being ditched as captain for West Indies' tour of Sri Lanka late in 2010, Gayle could have taken it easy - especially as he'd recently said he "wouldn't be so sad" if Test cricket died and T20 cricket (which he's also quite handy at) took over. But you wouldn't have guessed from Gayle in Galle: he put his head down for nearly 11 hours for 333 (breaking out occasionally to smack nine sixes), his second Test triple-century. That series was drawn 0-0, a triumph of sorts for West Indies against the home side's phalanx of spinners. However, thanks to a bitter dispute with his board, Gayle played no more Tests for 19 months, but he returned recently to show he was still reasonably keen on the five-day game by battering New Zealand for 150 (and 64 not out) in Antigua.

Graeme Smith
Going in to the 2003 series in England, South Africa's young captain Smith - he was only 22 back then - was being perceived as a weak link, with some predicting that his batting style wouldn't work in English conditions. People had said that about Don Bradman too: and like the Don in 1930, Smith soon shut the critics up, scoring 277 (a national record at the time) in the first Test, and after making 85 in the second innings at Edgbaston, broke Bradman's record for a visiting batsman at Lord's with 259 in the second Test. It established Smith as captain for a decade in which he inflicted much pain on successive England captains, even if that particular series somehow ended up in a 2-2 draw.

Steve Harmison
And finally, an example of how not to make a statement of intent... few could recall as much hype and hullaballoo as surrounded the build-up to the 2006-07 Ashes series Down Under, the first one after the epic 2005 encounter in England. Harmison loped in to bowl the first ball in Brisbane... and it bobbled away straight to second slip. It was as if someone had let the air out of a balloon. England went from bad to worse, eventually suffering only the second 5-0 whitewash in Ashes history. In Harmison's defence, a couple of years previously he had started the tour of the Caribbean - where England won 3-0 - with a devastating 7 for 12 as West Indies imploded for 47 in the first Test in Jamaica.

*1750 GMT, October 22, 2012: The caption incorrectly mentioned 30 wickets for Saeed Ajmal

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Waseem on October 25, 2012, 17:39 GMT

    can't remember a series being dominated by one individual more than the pakistan india series of 82/83 where imran khan truly decimated india with his swing bowling. he took around 42 wickets in six tests and scored quite a few runs.it was total dominance apart from the class of gavaskar and amarnath they could not play imran at all.

  • Faisal on October 24, 2012, 17:07 GMT

    Ajmal is one of the greatest bowler the game has seen. Mystery spin will be tagged with Ajmal. He has perfected this art.

  • Paul on October 23, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    Mike Leach - didn't England lose the 05 Lords Test? Hardly a game-definining ball, let alone a series-defining one, then. I would have thought there would have been at least one player from the Gabba Test of the 2002/03 Ashes, of which Australia won the first four tests. Hayden's 197 (followed by another ton in the second innings), Ponting's 123, but probably the most significant was Nasser Hussain's winning the toss and sending Australia in, to see them rack up 2/364 by the end of Day 1.

  • Dummy4 on October 23, 2012, 20:46 GMT

    Another Harmison example I would add would be his 7 for 12 in the 1st Test in West Indies in 2003-4, it set the tone for the England pacemen to set up a historic 3-0 series win in the Caribbean.

  • Dummy4 on October 23, 2012, 15:54 GMT

    Two Pakistani Spinners great ...!

  • Dummy4 on October 23, 2012, 14:56 GMT

    Others have got here before me, but I do think that if Harmison is to figure in the list both his series-defining deliveries should be mentioned - Lord's '05 as well as Brisbane '06. I realise (unlike some) that you only have eleven places available - but one I'd like to nominate would be Conrad Hunte's 182 at Old Trafford in 1963, which signalled that WI were there to play businesslike cricket and win the series, and not just be fun-filled Caribbean entertainers.

  • Raghu on October 23, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    What about Dilip Vengsarkar in 1986 series against England in England and also he repeated the same against SL in India later.

  • sam on October 23, 2012, 10:31 GMT

    How about the greatest trendsetter of them all......'Pigeon' Glenn Mcgrath, who set the ball rolling before a series as far as some 'verbal disintegration' is concerned for his Invincibles Aus team waiting for their next prey .Incidentally the spearhead of the Aus attack didn't need to wait for the actual game to start but already demoralize a wary opponent with his famous predictions of a series whitewash for Aus. Unsurprisingly ,he has had a very high success rate with his predictions as well - not that there was any doubt as to the possible result anyways.The Poms would certainly be waking up in cold sweat even today with memories of the eerily but sickening regularity with which they faced the ultimate ignominy of a 5-0 whitewash at the hands of the Aussies.Not that it needed Mcgrath or anybody else for that matter to 'predict' the sickeningly obvious.......

  • Abhishek on October 23, 2012, 8:37 GMT

    Many people think Ganguly's 144 in Brisbane in the 2003-04 series deserved to be in the list. However, India only drew the series, not win it. As for Hashim Amla aaints England this year, the tone was set by Graeme Smith yet again- Amla simply followed it up with an epic innings. But yes, Azhar's 182 was absolutely unexpected and set the tone for the resurgence of Indian batting which was toiling away in test matches abroad till that time.

  • Dummy4 on October 23, 2012, 2:40 GMT

    If this list doesn't feature Hashim Amla's 311 in England 2012 & Sourav Ganguly's 144 in Brisbane against Steve Waugh's unstoppable Aussies in 2003, its not worth looking at!

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