April 1, 2013

You shall not pass

England's great escape in Auckland was the 21st time a Test ended with a team nine wickets down in the fourth innings. Here are 11 such cliffhangers

Harare, 2003-04
West Indies faced one of their most embarrassing defeats when, chasing 373, they dipped to 204 for 9 against Zimbabwe. Fidel Edwards - whose batting ability can be gauged by the fact that Corey Collymore (highest score in 157 first-class matches: 23) went in before him - had 11.5 overs to survive. In company with the reliable Ridley Jacobs, Edwards hung on, helped slightly by poor light, which meant the faster bowlers couldn't be risked. "By the close all the fielders were within about five yards of the bat, but the batsmen did their job marvellously," wrote John Ward on ESPNcricinfo. A few years later, in 2008-09, Fidel featured in two more cliffhangers at home to England.

Adelaide, 1960-61
In the fourth Test of one of the greatest series of all - the one that started with a tie in Brisbane - West Indies looked set to square the rubber when last man (and noted rabbit) Lindsay Kline joined the adhesive Ken Mackay with an hour and 50 minutes still to play, and Australia well adrift. But the pair clung on, and on... Kline scraped his way to 15 not out, which remained his highest Test score. Amid rising tension Wes Hall bowled his second vital final over of the series (he'd also been there at the Gabba). Mackay gritted it out, even taking the last ball deliberately on the body to avoid any chance of giving a catch.

Old Trafford, 2005
Victory in the third Test would have put England 2-1 up in this epic series, but Australia lived to fight another day. When Ricky Ponting fell for a superb 156, last man Glenn McGrath had four overs to survive, but he did, sparking scenes of celebration on the Aussie balcony that suggested they'd actually won. Michael Vaughan used the sight of that to gee up his troops, and England really did win at Trent Bridge, before a draw at The Oval meant the Ashes returned home after 16 long years.

Cardiff, 2009
The first match of the 2009 Ashes - and the first Test in Cardiff - had a heart-stopping finish. After England conceded a first-innings lead of 239, Paul Collingwood played an almost lone hand as England tried to stave off what seemed inevitable defeat (in only the third innings of the match this time). And when Collingwood was finally out, with about 45 minutes still to play, local hopes were not entirely reassured by the sight of Monty Panesar ambling to the crease. But Panesar somehow hung on with James Anderson, the pair surviving 69 balls in all. They earned one great cheer for equalling Australia's score (meaning a vital ten minutes, for a change of innings, would be chalked off) and an even bigger one when they were still there at 6.42pm and there was no time for any more heart-stopping entertainment. England had survived, and they went on to win the Ashes again.

Centurion, 2009-10
England cornered the market in last-pair finishes around this time, following that Cardiff epic with another nail-biter in their first Test of the winter, in South Africa. That man Collingwood was at it again, surviving 159 minutes for 26 not out, but the No. 11, his Durham team-mate Graham Onions, was left to face the final over. It was bowled by Makhaya Ntini, in his 100th Test, but there was no fairytale for him: Onions kept out all six balls - including one that shot along the ground - and pumped his fist in triumph/relief at the end.

Cape Town, 2009-10
And then it happened again: after England turned the tables to win the second Test, they were up against it again in the third. Chasing 466, they declined to 290 for 9 when Ian Bell was out with 17 balls remaining. Once more Onions marched in, and once again he held firm. His partner was Graeme Swann - but again Onions was left to face the final over, this time from Morne Morkel. And again he hung on, unfazed even by an unsuccessful review for caught-behind off the fifth ball after a huge appeal. One delivery later, Onions could reprise his Centurion fist-punch. But England had run out of resistance: South Africa won the final Test easily to draw the series.

Old Trafford, 1998
Possibly mesmerised by having to watch Gary Kirsten bat for nearly 11 hours, England made a poor fist of chasing 552 in the first innings of this third Test, crashing to 183 all out. After two quick wickets in the follow-on, the Cricketer's then editor, Richard Hutton, announced that he couldn't stand any more and was going home - and he wasn't alone. Alec Stewart (164) led the rearguard, but when Darren Gough was out at 367 for 9 there were still 7.1 overs remaining - unless England could reach 369, which would knock two overs off that by requiring South Africa to bat again. Somehow they got there, Angus Fraser survived a sizzling last over from Allan Donald to force the draw. It left England still only one down - and they surged back to win the fourth and fifth Tests in memorable style to steal the series. This was only the second Test to end drawn with the scores level, after Bulawayo 1996-97 (when England almost beat Zimbabwe); a third happened in November 2011 in Mumbai (see below).

Adelaide, 1968-69
Set 360 by West Indies to win a high-scoring match - 17 individual scores of 50 or more remains a Test record - Australia seemed to be sailing home at 304 for 3. But panic set in after Ian Chappell fell for 96: three of the next six wickets fell to run-outs, and in the end the last pair - Paul Sheahan and a famously poor batsman, Alan Connolly - had to hang on for 26 balls, which they did.

Melbourne, 1987-88
A seesaw Boxing Day Test seemed finally to have tipped New Zealand's way when Australia, needing 247 to win, slipped from 209 for 5 to 227 for 9. Richard Hadlee had taken five wickets in each innings: could he conjure up one more? Home thoughts of victory were gone: Nos. 10 and 11, Craig McDermott and Mike Whitney, needed to keep out the last 4.5 overs to pinch a draw. They did it, in an atmosphere of high tension but good spirits, as Wisden records: "When Whitney, playing in his first Test since 1981, dug out Hadlee's final ball of the match, the New Zealand fast bowler walked down the pitch to the exuberant batsman, put an arm around his shoulder and shook his hand."

Georgetown, 1967-68
Garry Sobers copped a lot of criticism in the Caribbean for a sporting declaration that allowed England to win the fourth Test. Now, in the fifth and final one, he tried almost singlehandedly to make amends and square the series: he scored 152 and 95 not out, and took three wickets in each innings. But it wasn't quite enough. England's last pair, Alan Knott and Jeff Jones, hung on, with Jones defying a testing final over from offspinner Lance Gibbs, who took 6 for 60 on a helpful pitch.

Mumbai, 2011-12
For once it was the bowling side that had the broader smiles: India had looked certain winners when, chasing 243 to complete a clean sweep of the three-match series, they reached 224 for 6. Even when Virat Kohli was out, they needed only 19 from 4.5 overs. That boiled down to two off two balls, with two wickets left - and although R Ashwin missed the fifth ball, that at least meant India couldn't lose. Ashwin connected with the last ball - but was run out going for the winning second run, leaving India level at 242 for 9, and sparking wild West Indian celebrations.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013. Ask Steven is now on Facebook