June 30, 2014

Leaving it late

After last week's dramatic finish at Headingley, a look at some other Tests that went down to the wire

Edgbaston 2005
It's the cliffhanger everyone thinks of first, the one that set up the greatest series of all, as England levelled the 2005 Ashes. An absorbing Test from the start, this one looked settled when, bedevilled by Andrew Flintoff, Australia dipped to 175 for 8 at the end of the third day in pursuit of 282. But tension rose to fever pitch next morning as the Aussies inched closer to their target. First Shane Warne -­ who had bowled like a dream earlier in the game -­ and Brett Lee put on 45, then, after Flintoff interjected again, somehow persuading Warne to tread on his stumps, Lee and last man Michael Kasprowicz added 59 more. Just as England were despairing, Steve Harmison jammed a bouncer into Kasprowicz's glove, and the ball looped to the keeper. England had won by two runs, and their captain, Michael Vaughan, danced a jig of delight.

Brisbane 1960-61
Test cricket's first tie, between Australia and West Indies, ended off the penultimate ball of the last possible over of the match, just like last week's Headingley classic. At the Gabba, though, the final wicket went down as Australia were scrambling for the winning run ,­when the cool West Indian fielder Joe Solomon hit the stumps from side-on to keep it all square.

Durban 1948-49
In a slow-scoring four-day Test at Kingsmead, England were left to get 128 in 28 eight-ball overs. They fell to 70 for 6, and although Denis Compton organised a recovery, the ninth-wicket pair - Alec Bedser and Cliff Gladwin - were left to score 12 off 14 balls at the end. Bedser brought the scores level with two deliveries left, but Gladwin missed the first of them. He and Bedser decided to run on the last ball, come what may, and somehow completed a leg-bye after Gladwin missed again and the ball trickled away off his body. The unlikely batting heroes danced what Wisden termed "a jubilation one-step" (no, we don't know either). A similar nervy chase in the fifth Test at Port Elizabeth - the margin three wickets this time ­- gave England the series 2-0.

Christchurch 1991-92
The winning margin - England by an innings and four runs - doesn't suggest a nailbiter, but this match did go right down to the wire. Martin Crowe, New Zealand's captain, had resisted for more than two hours as the clock ticked down on the final day, but regular wickets for Phil Tufnell left the home side nine down. With ten minutes to go and New Zealand 264 for 9, Tuffers looped up a flighted delivery. A four would level the scores, forcing England to bat again... only there wouldn't be time for them to go in, once the gap between innings was taken into account. Crowe took the bait, went for the boundary - but succeeded only in skying to mid-off, where Derek Pringle held on to the catch. Tufnell finished with a career-best 7 for 47, and 11 wickets in the match.

The Oval 1882
The match that gave us the Ashes legend was so tense that one spectator reportedly died of a heart attack, while another chewed through his umbrella handle. England, set only 85 to win, were shot out for 77 by Fred Spofforth, who took 14 for 90 in the match: he was fired up at the end after a bit of sharp practice by WG Grace ran out one of "The Demon's" team-mates. England hadn't expected to lose at home to the upstart Aussies, one reason for the mock obituary of English cricket that appeared in the Sporting Times shortly afterwards.

Chennai 1986-87
The second tied Test, like the first, ended with a wicket from the penultimate ball of the last possible over. In enervating conditions ­- Dean Jones went to hospital after a superb 210 earlier in the match -­ the Australian offspinner Greg Matthews began his 40th over of the final innings with India needing four to win, and the last pair at the crease. Ravi Shastri managed a two, and a single from the third ball, to bring the scores level. Last man Maninder Singh defended the next one but was adjudged lbw to the fifth. Matthews's tenth wicket of the match sealed the tie.

Bulawayo 1996-97
England's first official Test against Zimbabwe boiled down to a chase of 205 in 37 overs. England seemed to be cruising as Nick Knight and Alec Stewart were putting on 137, but wickets went down as the overs ran out. Zimbabwe bowled defensively, often well down the leg side - the watching Trevor Bailey would have approved; he did something similar to save an Ashes Test in 1953 - and although Knight managed a six in the final over he still needed three from Heath Streak's last ball. He carved it away towards the boundary, but was run out going for the vital third: it was the first Test to end as a draw with the scores level (there have been two more since).

Old Trafford 1902
It was, enthused Wisden, "one of the most memorable matches in the whole history of cricket, the Australians, after some extraordinary fluctuations of fortune, winning by three runs". In a match full of startling collapses, England were 92 for 3, chasing only 124, when the great Ranji was out. The final collapse followed: soon it was 116 for 9, with the debutant Fred Tate on strike. He swiped a boundary, but was bowled fourth ball looking for another one. England had lost; Tate never played for England again. The next Test, at The Oval, was another heart-stopper: England won it by one wicket, their last pair putting on 15.

Adelaide 1992-93
With Australia already one up, victory in the fourth Test would have given them the series against West Indies - and unofficial world-champion status. It looked good when they embarked on a modest chase of 186; less good when they dipped to 74 for 7. Marshalled by the debutant Justin Langer, they got close but when Langer was out for 54 it looked all over at 144 for 9. But Nos. 10 and 11 - Tim May and Craig McDermott - cranked them to within sight of the target. Finally, though, "a short ball from Courtney Walsh pitched on off stump, and lifted to brush McDermott's hand" (Wisden). Darrell Hair gave it out caught behind, although McDermott still swears he never touched it, and the West Indians celebrated a one-run victory, the narrowest in Test history. They won the final Test as well: Australia's long-serving captain Allan Border had never beaten the Windies in a series... and never did.

Melbourne 1907-08
If 19-year-old Gerry Hazlitt had held his nerve, Test cricket's first tie would have been at the MCG in January 1908, not at the Gabba 52 years later. Australia had trailed by 116 on first innings, but a strong comeback set England 282 to win, and they looked doomed when the ninth wicket went down at 243. But Sydney Barnes, the great bowler, was nothing if not bloody-minded: with the help of his new-ball partner, the No. 11 Arthur Fielder, he levelled the scores. The winning run, though, came when they attempted a terribly short single: Hazlitt rushed in from cover point, shied at the stumps... and missed. England had won by one wicket.

Melbourne 1982-83
The remarkably neat scorecard - all four innings within ten runs of one another, the first three all completed in exactly one day - hides a classic match. Like many others here, it boiled down to the last-wicket pair: an England win looked a formality when Australia slipped to 218 for 9, chasing 292. England gave singles to Allan Border, in order to get at No. 11 Jeff Thomson but Thommo defended heroically, while the previously out-of-form Border played himself back into nick. By the fourth-day close they had knocked off 37 of the 74 runs they needed ­ and 18,000 turned up next morning to see what might have been just one ball. Instead Australia continued to tick off the runs, until only four were required. Bob Willis turned to the golden arm of Ian Botham, and he served up a wide one: Thomson's eyes lit up, he went for the winning boundary, but only edged it straight to first slip. Still the drama wasn't quite over: a white-faced Chris Tavare could only parry the ball upwards and behind him, but Geoff Miller ran round to hold the catch.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014. Ask Steven is now on Facebook