July 13, 2011

The most compelling Test of them all

Context, quality, balance and drama make a Test memorable. Is there any one game that ticks all boxes?
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A legend was born 30 years ago this week and still feels as young as yesterday. At Headingley in July 1981, to put no finer point on it, England pulled off the greatest heist in Test - perhaps even sporting - history. Even Ronnie Biggs might have doffed his cap to such chutzpah.

Familiar as they are, the events bear repeating, if only to underline their implausibility. Midway through day four of a game that aspired to one-sidedness, England lost their seventh second-innings wicket at 135, still 92 behind. Nobody - not England at the SCG in 1894, nor even India in Kolkata in 2001, the other two instances of a side winning a Test after following on - has ever spent so much time on the canvas before rising to administer a knockout.

While the pitch was too loaded in favour of the bowlers - as it so often is in the most riveting contests - that game boasted one of Wisden's Top 10 Test innings (Ian Botham's heave-and-humpty-laden 149 not out) as well as one of the good book's Top 10 bowling performances (Bob Willis' decisive, career-salvaging 8 for 43). No other match has been so blessed. As for those 500-1 odds, they were hugely conservative: given that only one side had won after following on in 901 previous Tests, it should have been 900-1 against. Throw in a backdrop of civil unrest and social strife and you have a recipe for magic.

Even so, in Test cricket's 2000-strong pecking order, Headingley '81 must still tug its forelock. Much of the play bypassed Quality Street and slumbered in Mediocre Alley. The ends justified the means; an ideal world demands parity.

So what, then, makes an epic sporting contest, one that grips from gun to tape and doesn't depend on the cheap thrills of the frantic final lap? In essence, there are four key components: context, quality, balance and drama. Of these, balance, of power and skill, is the most neglected: neither bat nor ball, nor one side, should dominate. After all, we're not talking about a match that lasts 80 minutes, 90 minutes, three hours or an entire day, but the best part of a week, sometimes more. As such, for all the tendency of the more exhilarating games to be low-scorers, balance is more important in cricket than other sports.

Football fans seldom salivate over goalless draws; baseball purists disdain run-fests; tennis aficionados crave drop shots and stop-volleys with their serves and smashes; no matter how mighty the drives, golfers must putt well. In cricket, similarly, we want to see the game in all its guises, which is why Tests are its foremost means of expression: defence should be as important as attack, maidens as vital as sixes, spin as necessary as pace. Greatness, in other words, is a giraffe of an order. Helpfully, because of the languid way time wends it course, allowing us to savour the ebb and flow more deeply, those pregnant pauses between balls, even lunch and tea, can be as fascinating as the action itself. Indeed, much of the joy of spectatorship lies in relishing the suspense, in contemplating inaction.

Balance, though, is no guarantee of excellence. In 1974 and 1982, Melbourne staged Ashes Tests where the margins were never less than wafer-thin. On the first occasion six runs spanned the lowest of the four innings (238 for 8) and the highest (244); on the second, the totals ranged from 284 to 294. Yet the latter is remembered almost exclusively for the Allan Border-Jeff Thomson last-wicket liaison of 70 that came within a boundary of turning defeat into victory, while the former is never mentioned in debates of this ilk, not so much because the match was drawn but because the climax was such a dud: with 16 to get from the last three overs and three wickets in hand, Australia, already two-up, chose safety over glory.

As for drama, there's nothing like a comeback. A cluster of fourth-innings recoveries have defied logic, none more than in Port-of-Spain in 2000, when West Indies blew away Zimbabwe, Andy Flower et al, for 63, thus becoming just the second team - and the first in 118 years since Fred Spofforth demonised England at The Oval - to win after inviting the opposition, willingly or otherwise, to chase under 100. Then there was Kingston 1999, where Brian Lara's magnificent 213 underpinned a ten-wicket beating of Australia just eight days after Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie had dispatched West Indies for 51: an all-time low followed by an all-time high. Yet on mathematical grounds alone, nothing, not even Australia winning in Colombo in 1992 after trailing by 291, touches Headingley '81.

As with Kingston, though, Headingley's cause is further undermined by its timing: it was the third of a six-Test series. It resolved nothing. Nor, for that matter, did the tied Tests. Surely, just as cakes warrant icing, we deserve resolution.

What makes an epic sporting contest, one that grips from gun to tape and doesn't depend on the cheap thrills of the frantic final lap?

On that score, two matches loom largest, final Tests both: Australia v West Indies, Melbourne 1961 and India v Australia, Chennai 2001 (arguments for The Oval 2005 are compelling but the contest barely entered a fourth innings). There were commonalities aplenty. The protagonists were evenly matched and began proceedings all square. Batsmen wielded no more clout than bowlers (in the first, West Indies made 292 and 321, Australia 356 and 258 for 8; in the second, Australia made 391 and 264, India 501 and 155 for 8); the balance of power swung like a cocaine-powered pendulum; the winners prevailed by two wickets in the final session of the final day. In neither case, at the end of a rousing rip-snorter of a series, did the pressure to finish on a fitting crescendo either inhibit or unnerve. Perfection - or as near as makes no difference.

At bottom, distinguishing between these two grand expositions of cricketness is a matter of time and place. Winning in Chennai confirmed to Indians that that astounding triumph in the previous Test in Kolkata, where Australia's unprecedented sequence of 16 consecutive victories was finally arrested, was not only no fluke but a launchpad for five-day power and economic boom.

Forty years earlier, in the wake of unforgettable grippers in Brisbane and Adelaide, Australia and West Indies had confirmed that the Test match itself, on life support following the caution-drenched drabness of the '50s in general, and the terminal torpor of the 1958-59 Ashes series in particular, was alive and kicking. The MCG, furthermore, staged the final act of a five-Test series, one that kept attentions rapt throughout, preserving, somehow, the decidedly anachronistic notion of a sporting contest taking more than a month to reach a conclusion.

But do we really need resolution? Stalemate, after all, hardly prohibits memorableness. Witness Lord's 1963, a game of twin halves: West Indies 301 and 229, England 297 and 228 for 9. The ninth home wicket fell with six required and two balls remaining, whereupon Colin Cowdrey plodded in, broken wrist in a sling. Fortunately he was at the non-striker's end as Wes Hall pounded in, and David Allen pragmatically blocked the next ball. Come the last delivery, for just the second time in Test annals, all four results were possible (in Bombay in 1949, when India, 355 for 9, were chasing 361 against West Indies, the umpires miscounted, time was called and the final ball, criminally, went unbowled). Allen blocked again. Unlike Dennis Lillee and Max Walker at the MCG 11 years later, he had an alibi: of course fear of defeat was a factor (West Indies were already one up in the series), but he couldn't very well risk leaving a one-armed partner to face the music. The line between forgettable and imperishable can be extremely slender.

Nor was it simply the final act that conserves this particular encounter in aspic. Ted Dexter, Brian Close and Basil Butcher never batted better, Hall and Fred Trueman seldom bowled better, and the co-stars included Garry Sobers, Lance Gibbs, Charlie Griffith, Rohan Kanhai and Ken Barrington, all at or near their peak. So intense was the interest, so assiduously did even those responsible for national security follow the climax, England was never more susceptible to a nuclear attack than on that evening.

But a match to justify/define 2000? Look no further than that 1960 tie in Brisbane, which did more, arguably, to capture and recapture imaginations than any other single cricket match. Another near-symmetrical contest - West Indies 453 and 284, Australia 505 and 232 - it was scarcely short of candidates for the time capsule: Sobers' audacious first-day 132, Hall's unstinting fire and brimstone, Alan Davidson coupling 11 wickets with scores of 44 and 80. Best of all, the result scorned the capitalist emphasis on victory and defeat with almost feckless fearlessness.

In The Greatest Test of All, Jack Fingleton nailed the most critical ingredients: "In the final analysis, perhaps the two greatest men in the match were the two captains - Benaud and Worrell. They could have played tight, shut the game up, played for a draw. But neither wanted a draw; both wanted victory." And if both were denied, it was in the very grandest and noblest of manners.

What other sport can cite as its apotheosis a match that dazzled with adventure yet refused to yield a winner - beyond, that is, the game itself? Be proud, cricket, be proud.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 15, 2011, 13:49 GMT

    slightly biased towards matches involving ENG, AUS.... for matches that my generation has seen there can't be a match for the Kolkata Test 2001... A team cruising to it's 18th world record win in a row, suddenly being robbed out of the opportunity and that to when Indian were so lowly rated before the series (and after that Mumbai test disaster), will always remain the defining moment in contemporary cricket.

  • Rastawookie on July 15, 2011, 4:35 GMT

    Now I didn't see much of '81 (just highlights), and I didn't see the first tied test, just read about it, but I have seen Kolkatta 2001, and Aus vs Eng in 2005, and while being great tests, they dont compare to WI vs Australia in Adelaide 92/93. Adelaide needed to win just one of the last two tests to take the Frank Worrell trophy. Australia recalled forgotten hometown hero Tim May, and debuted a fresh-faced Justin Langer. Fire and Brimstone was sent down by the Windies bowlers, particularly mon-of-the-match Ambrose. Hughes and May each with 5-wicket hauls for the Aussies. It all came down to two partnerships. The Aussies needed 82 with 2 wickets in hand, May and Langer at the crease. They cut the deficit to 42 before Craig McDermott and Tim May put on 40 getting them within 2 runs. A Walsh bouncer struck McDermott on the glove, held by Junior Murray for the closest Test win of all time, propelling WI on to an unlikely series win.

    Best test ever, meets all the criteria

  • mumbai2007 on July 15, 2011, 1:23 GMT

    I would say no to there being a definitive game that ticks all 4 boxes - the great teams like the 80s Windies, the late 70s Pakistanis, the early 80s Aussies, Bradman's Invincibles, the mid-90s Pakistanis, etc were never really involved in close matches - most of the above were spectacular matches but not necessarily ticking all 4 boxes - the closest in 3-2-1 order are probably the 1977 Centenary Match, the 1999 Indo-Pak game, and the 1988 Pak-Windies match - also seem to recall SA-Pak playing some top-class great games in the mid-90s

  • SoftwareStar on July 15, 2011, 0:33 GMT

    Aus Vs WI - Barbados 1999 Aus Vs WI - Adelaide 1993 Ind Vs WI - Barbados 1997 Ind Vs Pak - Chennai 1999 SA Vs WI - Barbados 1992 Ind Vs Aus - Kolkota 2001 Ind Vs Aus - Chennai 1986 Wi Vs Pak - Antigua 2005 (Jimmy Adams and Walsh stand) Aus Vs Eng - Headingley 2005

    are a few that immediately crop to my mind. The author has completely missed many of the top ones... especially the closest test of all - Adelaide 1993 for the unofficial test world champions!

  • CollisKing on July 15, 2011, 0:12 GMT

    West Indies vs Australia - Barbados 1999

    Brian Lara's match winning 153*, one of the greatest test match innings of all time.

  • on July 14, 2011, 14:36 GMT

    Is Edgbaston '05 being discounted for being too obvious? I remember thinking at stumps on Day 3 that it was the best game I'd ever seen, and that was before the famous fourth morning. It had everything, with two sides close to their peaks. And (while I'm sure the writer is aware of this) the 900-1 figure is fanciful, unless you were to make the unlikely bet before the match started that a side would win after following on. A side becomes much more likely to record a rare follow-on win once they've actually followed on!

  • andrew-schulz on July 14, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    Great comment about the 900/1 odds. Maybe there were some draws in those 901 Tests?

  • on July 14, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    everyone that thinks the Kolkota test is the best ever is surely either an Asian or was not born when the 1960 tie at Brisbane was played out. Well written article and surely any test that resulted in a TIE and not a draw is the best test. There have been 2000 tests guys and Kolkota is not even in the top 5!! get over it.

  • Tom_Bowler on July 14, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    To those (fortunately) few who have chosen to embarass themselves by blathering on about how every game India have ever played is obviously superior to Headingley '81 you might like to actually read the article and note that the author explicitly states that the game in question does not meet the criteria he has set for the most compelling match of all. His choice for that title is the Australia-West Indies tie in 1960.

  • on July 14, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    pak v/s india chennai & banglore...

    havent seen anything better.

  • on July 15, 2011, 13:49 GMT

    slightly biased towards matches involving ENG, AUS.... for matches that my generation has seen there can't be a match for the Kolkata Test 2001... A team cruising to it's 18th world record win in a row, suddenly being robbed out of the opportunity and that to when Indian were so lowly rated before the series (and after that Mumbai test disaster), will always remain the defining moment in contemporary cricket.

  • Rastawookie on July 15, 2011, 4:35 GMT

    Now I didn't see much of '81 (just highlights), and I didn't see the first tied test, just read about it, but I have seen Kolkatta 2001, and Aus vs Eng in 2005, and while being great tests, they dont compare to WI vs Australia in Adelaide 92/93. Adelaide needed to win just one of the last two tests to take the Frank Worrell trophy. Australia recalled forgotten hometown hero Tim May, and debuted a fresh-faced Justin Langer. Fire and Brimstone was sent down by the Windies bowlers, particularly mon-of-the-match Ambrose. Hughes and May each with 5-wicket hauls for the Aussies. It all came down to two partnerships. The Aussies needed 82 with 2 wickets in hand, May and Langer at the crease. They cut the deficit to 42 before Craig McDermott and Tim May put on 40 getting them within 2 runs. A Walsh bouncer struck McDermott on the glove, held by Junior Murray for the closest Test win of all time, propelling WI on to an unlikely series win.

    Best test ever, meets all the criteria

  • mumbai2007 on July 15, 2011, 1:23 GMT

    I would say no to there being a definitive game that ticks all 4 boxes - the great teams like the 80s Windies, the late 70s Pakistanis, the early 80s Aussies, Bradman's Invincibles, the mid-90s Pakistanis, etc were never really involved in close matches - most of the above were spectacular matches but not necessarily ticking all 4 boxes - the closest in 3-2-1 order are probably the 1977 Centenary Match, the 1999 Indo-Pak game, and the 1988 Pak-Windies match - also seem to recall SA-Pak playing some top-class great games in the mid-90s

  • SoftwareStar on July 15, 2011, 0:33 GMT

    Aus Vs WI - Barbados 1999 Aus Vs WI - Adelaide 1993 Ind Vs WI - Barbados 1997 Ind Vs Pak - Chennai 1999 SA Vs WI - Barbados 1992 Ind Vs Aus - Kolkota 2001 Ind Vs Aus - Chennai 1986 Wi Vs Pak - Antigua 2005 (Jimmy Adams and Walsh stand) Aus Vs Eng - Headingley 2005

    are a few that immediately crop to my mind. The author has completely missed many of the top ones... especially the closest test of all - Adelaide 1993 for the unofficial test world champions!

  • CollisKing on July 15, 2011, 0:12 GMT

    West Indies vs Australia - Barbados 1999

    Brian Lara's match winning 153*, one of the greatest test match innings of all time.

  • on July 14, 2011, 14:36 GMT

    Is Edgbaston '05 being discounted for being too obvious? I remember thinking at stumps on Day 3 that it was the best game I'd ever seen, and that was before the famous fourth morning. It had everything, with two sides close to their peaks. And (while I'm sure the writer is aware of this) the 900-1 figure is fanciful, unless you were to make the unlikely bet before the match started that a side would win after following on. A side becomes much more likely to record a rare follow-on win once they've actually followed on!

  • andrew-schulz on July 14, 2011, 13:46 GMT

    Great comment about the 900/1 odds. Maybe there were some draws in those 901 Tests?

  • on July 14, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    everyone that thinks the Kolkota test is the best ever is surely either an Asian or was not born when the 1960 tie at Brisbane was played out. Well written article and surely any test that resulted in a TIE and not a draw is the best test. There have been 2000 tests guys and Kolkota is not even in the top 5!! get over it.

  • Tom_Bowler on July 14, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    To those (fortunately) few who have chosen to embarass themselves by blathering on about how every game India have ever played is obviously superior to Headingley '81 you might like to actually read the article and note that the author explicitly states that the game in question does not meet the criteria he has set for the most compelling match of all. His choice for that title is the Australia-West Indies tie in 1960.

  • on July 14, 2011, 7:12 GMT

    pak v/s india chennai & banglore...

    havent seen anything better.

  • KAIRAVA on July 14, 2011, 6:32 GMT

    When one compares the 1981 test result with the historic 2001 Ind-Aus test, the circumstances clearly presents a huge distinction. Australia came into the India series as World no. 1 test team & on the back of a 15 match winning streak. The previous meeting between the two sides was in Australia(Jan, 2000), where Aussies completed a 3-0 sweep of India. Australia also defeated India in the last test match played between the two sides in India (March, 1998). In 2001, Australia had players of the calibre of Hayden, Langer, Mark & Steve Waugh, Ponting, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath & Gillespie, each of whom finds a place in the best 2 or 3 Aussie teams of all time. Also, if one were to consider the recent ESPNCricinfo All-time XI of Australia, 3 Aussies in that XI, figured in the 2001 series whereas only 2 figured in the 1981 series. Australia demolished India by 10 wkts. in the first match of the series & were looking to extend their now 16 match win tally. And the rest is legendary.

  • Chona on July 14, 2011, 3:02 GMT

    although HEADINGLEY 1981 is still under a cloud of being one of the first few matches being actually fixed for money as accepted by Lillee and Marsh....it is strange that it is considered as a classic or legend....

  • Grutness on July 14, 2011, 0:45 GMT

    New Zealand vs West Indies, 1st Test, Carisbrook, Dunedin, February 1980. Close and competitive? You bet. Quality? Very high. Controversy and drama? By the truckload.

  • explorer18 on July 14, 2011, 0:05 GMT

    Most compelling test? Kolkata 2001. Come from behind win. One of the greatest partnerships and test innings ever, and a similarly compelling bowling. Redefining what's possible in test cricket. Ending the win streak of #1 team in the world. Changing the course of test cricket... and setting stage for the rise of India to #1 status in World Cricket. Enough said.

  • SettingSun on July 13, 2011, 20:35 GMT

    @MaruthuDelft - so, in other words, only the best teams can contest the best matches? Complete drivel. Trot on.

  • itzvinay on July 13, 2011, 20:14 GMT

    well...i see a lot of true cricket..read test lovers...and the reason we love it that it has given us several such great things...great innings, spells, contests and matches...identifying one such test, in my opinion will ironically be against the spirit of the game...test cricket has given us joys and sorrows alike...so it's a matter of personal choice..and what I have seen in my life...picture of squatted Flintoff and Brett Lee is unforgettable..

  • MaruthuDelft on July 13, 2011, 19:35 GMT

    Ha Ha Ha....This is the one of the most ignorant article I read on 'missing the point'. I think in the eighties Windies were the best; the best test should have involved them; if not Banglad and Zim could play a tight game now to claim it as the best; the context and quality factors are not ticked there. Surely Ashes is special and well watched but in that era a best test claim should have involved Windies.

  • praghunathan on July 13, 2011, 18:32 GMT

    No doubt. The Brisbane tie is the best ever. Simply because of what it did for test cricket around the world.

  • salilnagvekar on July 13, 2011, 18:24 GMT

    Nothing can beat the Kolkatta Test, simply can't understand why the author thinks the match between Eng and Aus is the only one that ticks all the boxes.

  • absha1 on July 13, 2011, 17:10 GMT

    West Indies - Pakistan 1988, bridgetown. Match ticks all the boxes, and the series context has one of the greatest teams ever fighting a challenge on its patch from one of the most determined sides ever. and that rivalry in the 80s had enough broken bones to keep us mesmerized.

  • Raiden on July 13, 2011, 16:53 GMT

    Only one word, Headingley 1981...Greatest test match ever played

  • nlambda on July 13, 2011, 15:49 GMT

    As an Indian, everything was good about the Chennai test except the end. Our tailenders, particularly Srinath and Kumble, were gutless. It would have been one thing if they had been yorked by unplayable deliveries from W & W, but to lose because everyone panicked after Sachin got out was pretty disgraceful. Srinath's totally panicked expression, sweat pouring down his face, is still burnt in my brain and sours my mood.

  • KAIRAVA on July 13, 2011, 15:23 GMT

    The West Indies win against India in Bridgetown test of 1997 when Windies snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat has got to be ranked up there.

  • Stouffer on July 13, 2011, 15:14 GMT

    One of my personal favourites would be the Edgbaston Ashes test from 2005. Even before the start of play there was drama as McGrath stepped on a ball and missed the match. England started like a house on fire with Strauss and Trescothick, before Pietersen and Flintoff took over. Australia lost Hayden first ball, and finished 100 adrift, but then staged a comeback bowling England out for 182. Back came England again to reduce the Aussies to 137-7 before a fightback got them within 2 before the last wicket was taken. Amazing game, that put England on the way to winning the Ashes for the first time since 1985

  • Stark62 on July 13, 2011, 15:10 GMT

    Ind vs Pak, Chennai 1999- Enough said!

  • on July 13, 2011, 14:37 GMT

    Shame you missed the cracker Pak vs Aus at Karachi in 1994. The game swung in both directions right up to the last ball. Inzi stepped out to smash it past mid wicket, missed, Warne's eyes lit up, but healy missed the stumping and ballcrawled over the boundary as Mark Waugh gave chase. One ball summed up the elation and disappointment of the Australian cricketers and fans, whereas shock and delight for the Pakistani cricketers and fans.

  • Hiteshdevilliers on July 13, 2011, 14:21 GMT

    I'm shocked that Mr. Steen did not mention of Edgbaston 2005. In my mind, that was the single greatest test match that I've ever seen, and as the comments board shows, quite a few others would agree with me. Considering the context of the match, from McGrath injury, to going in with an unchanged line up after the Lord's debacle, the Ponting err in the toss, the quick paced first innings score by England. And of course, who can forget the magic moments of that test, the Warne ball of the century 2.0, Flintoff's magical all round performance, including his first over of the 2nd innings, the lee-kasprowicz nail biting last-wicket partnership. This was the one test that got me cheering like crazy off my seat when Jones took that final catch. What's more, it setup one of thew greatest series ever, with the score tied at 1-1 after the win. I never saw Headingley 81', but if it was anything like Edgbaston 2005, then I feel its been criminal by Rob to leave out such a precious gem of a match.

  • on July 13, 2011, 14:12 GMT

    Very well written indeed, Rob. Thinking about the Chennai and Kolkata tests of 2001 still makes my chest swell with pride.

  • on July 13, 2011, 14:08 GMT

    I remember this test match as I heard the commentary on BBC, it was Resurrection of Ian Botham who had miserably failed as a captain, but turned the tide with his batting and the match is to be remembered for Mike Brearley's good captaincy

  • on July 13, 2011, 13:59 GMT

    the chennai test match between ind-pakistan played in 1999 had all this and much more....the political pressure involved in the match as the 2 nations were playing in test series against each other after 10 years. then the match itself had everything. kumbles 6 wicket in the 1st innings, saqlains 5 wicket haul 2 restrict india 2 a low score, afridis atacking 100 in the 2nd innings and prasad causing a batting collapse at the end of the pak innings and then one of the most heroic and tragic innings of all time with sachin fighting back pain to take india 2 touching distance of victory and then the famous indian collapse but the most memorable & beautiful part was the standing ovation given by the chennai crowd to the pakistan team as they knew they had witnessed an epic match and also remember the problems between the nations. This is why i believe that test was one of the greatest if not the greatest test match ever played.

  • saadbajwa on July 13, 2011, 12:56 GMT

    Notable omission I must say, India vs Pakistan, 1st Test Chennai 1999

  • Tom_Bowler on July 13, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    A match that hasn't been mentioned that surely should be is the third West Indies-Pakistan match at Bridgetown in 1988. The West Indies were taken home by Dujon and Benjamin to secure a share of the series having looked down and out, I'd say it meets the four chosen criteria comfortably. As an England fan I can recall other England matches that aren't truly contenders for the title of finest game of all time that were just as painfully exhilarating as Headingley '81 or Edgbaston '05, the final Test of the home series against SA in '98 for example, but as a neutral that game in Barbados is the most heart stopping I remember.

  • gudolerhum on July 13, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    Excellent piece of reminiscing. Brings back memories of those great matches, many of which I listened to or was fortunate to witness. Thanks.

  • Kaze on July 13, 2011, 12:27 GMT

    I find it hard to rate any test that Dravid bats in a long time to be compelling and gripping, his batting is like watching paint dry. Wi vs Aus 1999 Barbados was very good then you have Australia vs Pakistan Hobart 1999, now Gilchrist he is exciting and compelling to watch. I would say the Hobart game was better, Pakistan had an outstanding attack and the match was even after first innings then Pakistan took the game away in third innings and then Langer and Gilly played brilliantly to win.

  • ppnyc on July 13, 2011, 12:17 GMT

    Why just write about it? Why dont you guys compile a dvd and sell it? By the way I love test cricket and would like to see it compete with golf. Get rid of Twenty Twenty and scrap ODIs(Sell the rights to BCCI) and market Test Cricket the way USGA markets golf.

  • on July 13, 2011, 11:45 GMT

    Nice article. However, I would argue that the greatest and the most compelling match ever was the Kolkata test, Ind vs. Aus, of 2001. The work of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid is stuff of folklore.

  • vparisa on July 13, 2011, 11:42 GMT

    Even though Ashes and Indo-Aus test matches are gripping, It is nothing when compared to Indo-Pak test matches. Most of the test matches have been one sided but Chennai 1999 is a classic. One man played through the pain and got the team so close but could not finish it off. That loss is very painful for Indian fans all over. The best part of the game was Pakistan getting a standing ovation during their lap of honor!! Its a rare event!!

  • Deuce03 on July 13, 2011, 11:20 GMT

    I feel that the Edgbaston 2005 Test is sometimes unfairly bracketed as an "exciting finish" with a lot of the preceding action overlooked. In fact it was a cracker right the way through. Before it started there was the drama surrounding McGrath's injury and Ponting's controversial decision to field first. Then England raced out of the traps, scoring a high total very quickly. Australia batted to a decent total in reply despite some good England bowling, then bowled well (including an all-time great delivery from Warne) to restrict England to a gettable total which was very nearly chased down. The context of the match and the historic one-sidedness of the rivalry made it all the more compelling.

    It probably wasn't as good pound-for-pound as some of the others mentioned, and it's true that I watched all of it whereas I've missed some other great Tests (because I'm British; because I'm young). But it was more than just a close finish.

  • BellCurve on July 13, 2011, 10:41 GMT

    All Indians fans will agree that that India v Zimbabwe in Harare in 2001 is one of the most memorable matches ever. The final two hours of play had all the ingredients described by Rob Steen. The climax was reached when Andy Flower, batting with a broken thumb, scored the winning runs just before close of play on the fourth day.

  • Rocket_180 on July 13, 2011, 10:13 GMT

    @CollisKing

    I totally agree with you, edgbaston 2005 ashes test was my greatest ever, and the series probaly was the greatest ever series, this was becuase, it was 5 amazing test matches with all 5 matches going to the last day with a great chance of seeing a result in each

    These days we dont get this classic test matches because the game has been taken over by the copporate world, test matches used to be played and finsihed in 5 days most of the time on decent test match pitches, These days we play on flat slow batting friendly wickets just to gurnatee the copporate world a gurnateed 5 days of cricket but when you see 500vs550 its jsut rubbish and killing the game

    Also the ICC need to get over rates up, we currently lose 10overs a day generally 50overs a match, now we can play under floodlights we should played 90 overs a day when we finish, we finish and if we end up finishing at 9pm i bet within a couple of test overrates are up at 15 an hour with standard finishes

  • on July 13, 2011, 10:00 GMT

    the 1999 test match vs india stands above all others. It had everything and to cap it off, the "sajda", the lap of honor, and the standing ovation by the chennai crowd.

  • on July 13, 2011, 9:08 GMT

    What about Eden Garden - Laxman -Dravid partnership to come from a losing position..a inning defeat to turn the table and winning that series from nowhere.... def. worth a mention.

  • CollisKing on July 13, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    England vs Australia 2005 As a West Indies supporter I am coming from a neutral standpoint here. After the first test Lords beatdown every match in this uniquely exciting series went into the last day in the balance. One team trying to win it, the other save it ... the perfect Test match scenario.

    Test match cricket in trouble: your 650 plays 500 first innings condemned to a bore-draw on day three on hopelessly slow, flat tracks is no longer going to cut it. If that means changing the structure of test match cricket so be it. Speeding the whole thing up: 4-day matches, faster over-rates, maximum overs per innings, restrictions on defensive field-placings, more bowler-friendly wickets, playing under lights in bad light. Rant over.

  • on July 13, 2011, 8:52 GMT

    Can't believe the 1977 Centenary Test hasn't been mentioned. All the pomp and ceremony of getting generations of Ashes combatants together, celebrating 100 years of Test cricket etc etc. Then to have both sides 'fail' in the first innings, 138 (Aust) and 95 (Eng). It looked like it'd be all over in three days and the Queen would have to meet the sides down at the pub! However, second innings highlights of centuries to Marsh and Randall, McCosker coming out with a broken jaw and the final result was exactly the same as what it was 100 years before. As the last Test in Australia before World Series Cricket it was quite a 'finale' before the Packer / commercial / professional era was ushered in. Agree with many of the other Tests, too, particularly the ties, especially the mythology surrounding 1960, the great photo that was on the scorebooks of my junior years, Wes Hall recounting his final over etc, but often these Tests are a great final day preceded by subsequently forgotten dross.

  • on July 13, 2011, 8:40 GMT

    An honorable mention for the Centenary test in 1977. Lillee, Randall, Marsh, Greig, Hookesy, McCosker, etc. Drama every day. Heroes throughout, witnessed by huge crowds and possibly the greatest collection of cricketers ever assembled. And the same 45 run margin as the original test in 1877. A test truly fitting the occasion. The last hurrah of the non- professional era.

  • on July 13, 2011, 8:37 GMT

    Barbados Test 1999...Australia Against West Indies.........

    Is The Best By All Means......It Had Every Emotion In It..........

  • on July 13, 2011, 7:55 GMT

    Dear ROB, How can you forget the Test match at Karachi between Pakistan and Australia? Pakistan gone to win the test match on last wicket. Last wicket partnershirp of 57 runs bw Inzi and Mushtaq and a miss stumping by Healy of warnie of the last ball of the match. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/63654.html

  • on July 13, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    Chennai has been host to three of the most incredible tests featuring India...the 2nd tied test match against australia in 1986, the pakistan humdinger in 1999 and the 2001 test against australia mentioned here...No wonder chepauk is one of the fnest test venues in the world...

  • rustyryan on July 13, 2011, 6:57 GMT

    Chennai tied test between Ind and Aus and as others said, 1999 Chennai test Vs Pakistan. For me the greatest moment in that test was Victory lap by Pakistan and the Standing ovation given by Chennai crowd. Considering all the off field activities, That test Vs Pakistan always be at top of my list for the brilliance of Sachin, Saqlin and the hope of new wisdom that extended beyond the borders.

  • on July 13, 2011, 6:45 GMT

    What about that 1999 Bridgetown test between Australia and West Indies...I guess that is the best I've ever seen...

  • on July 13, 2011, 6:43 GMT

    You missed Pakistan vs India Chennai 1999; that match had had everything in it. The finest Test match the world has ever seen. Then I will go for India vs Australia Kolkatta 2001

  • Doogius on July 13, 2011, 6:21 GMT

    If your an Ozzy, its an Ozzy test match, India = Indian and so on. Why?? Probably because the only tests you've ever seen 'cover to cover' are ones involving your own country. I'll leave this one to the experts who at least have seen test cricket across the 'boards' - but it must be real hard to go past the 61 tied test. If Benaud and Worrell vote for it - who am I to argue???

  • inxia on July 13, 2011, 6:00 GMT

    I think the key point that was made here is that an epic Test "grips from gun to tape and doesn't depend on the cheap thrills of the frantic final lap". I remember hearing Christopher Martin-Jenkins talking about this topic after the 2005 Edgbaston Test and he placed a strangly high emphasis on an exciting finish making a great Test. Likewise, an email read out during the same conversation said that a high quality of play was not a requirement for a great Test. Nonsense. I agree with Rob that what made the 1960 Brisbane Test so great was that it was great on every level, probably in even more categories than the four mentioned.

  • on July 13, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    1999 Chennai Test, India vs Pakistan have all the requisite balances that requested above. Each session match swings either side. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63828.html

  • Tendulkars_Tennis_Elbow on July 13, 2011, 5:14 GMT

    Finally, someone who gives Chennai 2001 the credit that is its due. IMHO, it was more gripping than Kolkata 2001. The third test between WI and Australia in 1999 ticked a lot of boxes for me. McGrath and Gillespie steaming in and Lara taking WI home with Walsh for company.

  • on July 13, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    in my opinion,a great test becomes great when both oppositions have equal cannons to target each other.We cannot call an "exiting finish" as a great contest when one team is spin heavy and the other is relatively more balanced.Few years back, Pakistan team had the most balanced team amongst all (with reference to bowling dept only).During mid 90's Pakistan had two quality quickies backed by another quick (two W's and third seamer Aaqib/shahid nazir/azhar etc).One quality leg break (Mushtaq ahmed) and one great offie (Saqlain).Australia used to had a great bowling but did not had a good off spinner like Pakistan did.But they remained champs because they also had a great batting and fielding to compliment their solid bowling.

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:28 GMT

    Dear Rob, just wondered if you have read views of the then Captain Mike Brearley on this test? The first thing I should say is that the train of events in 1981 was extremely fortuitous. In that third Test at Headingley, for a start, Ian Botham and Graham Dilley, whose second-innings partnership of 117 turned the match, could have been out at any moment. ( Botham himself confessed - he hit out blindly because he did n't want to hang around). The Captain end the article by saying I was the luckiest man that summer. I've become, for better or for worse, along with Botham, Willis and others, part of the mythology. It's not easy to sort out myth from reality.

    Its a bit pointless to figure out whats best given the circumstances, luck and so many other factors. I bet that doesn't stop you does it?

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:07 GMT

    For me, the greatest Test match will be the Ashes Test at Adelaide in 2006-7. England first managed to get into a commanding position (Eng 551/6d, Aus 65/3). From then on, rather than push hard for victory, they managed to end up in a drawish position by Stumps on Day 4. Finally, on Day 5, they miraculously snatched defeat from the jaws of draw. Few people would have given them a chance of losing after the first hour on Day 3. Meanwhile, Australia believed all throughout that they could win, and did eventually. England started off the Test with a flawed objective of "restoring pride" and "not losing". It just shows that Test cricket is more a battle of the mind than skills.

  • vk6848 on July 13, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    Brilliant. I agree that the greatest test match of all was the 1960 Brisbane test- for context, quality, balance and drama. Fiction writers could not have come up with what actually happened. I have only seen the pictures but what lingers in my memory most is the send-off the Windies team got when they left Australia

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:00 GMT

    Dear Rob, just wondered if you have read views of the then Captain Mike Brearley on this test? The first thing I should say is that the train of events in 1981 was extremely fortuitous. In that third Test at Headingley, for a start, Ian Botham and Graham Dilley, whose second-innings partnership of 117 turned the match, could have been out at any moment. ( Botham himself confessed - he hit out blindly because he did n't want to hang around). The Captain end the article by saying I was the luckiest man that summer. I've become, for better or for worse, along with Botham, Willis and others, part of the mythology. It's not easy to sort out myth from reality.

    Its a bit pointless to figure out whats best given the circumstances, luck and so many other factors. I bet that doesn't stop you does it?

  • DeathRaider on July 13, 2011, 3:49 GMT

    Would like to add the India vs Pakistan Test Match at Chennai (1999). you had the context (bitter rivalry between the two nations, first test series in 10 years), quality (Tendulkar, Wasim, Saqlain, Waqar,Kumble, Dravid, Ganguly, Azhar,Srinath,Anwar,Inzy..need I add more?),Balance (evenly matched teams both on ground as well as on paper made this contest really special) and Drama (How can a side being 254-6 lose the next 4 wickets for 4 runs to lose the test by 12 runs..in between all this there was the Tendulkar masterclass and Saqlain's never say die attitude) ...One hell of a test match ...For me ticks all the boxes!

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  • DeathRaider on July 13, 2011, 3:49 GMT

    Would like to add the India vs Pakistan Test Match at Chennai (1999). you had the context (bitter rivalry between the two nations, first test series in 10 years), quality (Tendulkar, Wasim, Saqlain, Waqar,Kumble, Dravid, Ganguly, Azhar,Srinath,Anwar,Inzy..need I add more?),Balance (evenly matched teams both on ground as well as on paper made this contest really special) and Drama (How can a side being 254-6 lose the next 4 wickets for 4 runs to lose the test by 12 runs..in between all this there was the Tendulkar masterclass and Saqlain's never say die attitude) ...One hell of a test match ...For me ticks all the boxes!

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:00 GMT

    Dear Rob, just wondered if you have read views of the then Captain Mike Brearley on this test? The first thing I should say is that the train of events in 1981 was extremely fortuitous. In that third Test at Headingley, for a start, Ian Botham and Graham Dilley, whose second-innings partnership of 117 turned the match, could have been out at any moment. ( Botham himself confessed - he hit out blindly because he did n't want to hang around). The Captain end the article by saying I was the luckiest man that summer. I've become, for better or for worse, along with Botham, Willis and others, part of the mythology. It's not easy to sort out myth from reality.

    Its a bit pointless to figure out whats best given the circumstances, luck and so many other factors. I bet that doesn't stop you does it?

  • vk6848 on July 13, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    Brilliant. I agree that the greatest test match of all was the 1960 Brisbane test- for context, quality, balance and drama. Fiction writers could not have come up with what actually happened. I have only seen the pictures but what lingers in my memory most is the send-off the Windies team got when they left Australia

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:07 GMT

    For me, the greatest Test match will be the Ashes Test at Adelaide in 2006-7. England first managed to get into a commanding position (Eng 551/6d, Aus 65/3). From then on, rather than push hard for victory, they managed to end up in a drawish position by Stumps on Day 4. Finally, on Day 5, they miraculously snatched defeat from the jaws of draw. Few people would have given them a chance of losing after the first hour on Day 3. Meanwhile, Australia believed all throughout that they could win, and did eventually. England started off the Test with a flawed objective of "restoring pride" and "not losing". It just shows that Test cricket is more a battle of the mind than skills.

  • on July 13, 2011, 4:28 GMT

    Dear Rob, just wondered if you have read views of the then Captain Mike Brearley on this test? The first thing I should say is that the train of events in 1981 was extremely fortuitous. In that third Test at Headingley, for a start, Ian Botham and Graham Dilley, whose second-innings partnership of 117 turned the match, could have been out at any moment. ( Botham himself confessed - he hit out blindly because he did n't want to hang around). The Captain end the article by saying I was the luckiest man that summer. I've become, for better or for worse, along with Botham, Willis and others, part of the mythology. It's not easy to sort out myth from reality.

    Its a bit pointless to figure out whats best given the circumstances, luck and so many other factors. I bet that doesn't stop you does it?

  • on July 13, 2011, 5:04 GMT

    in my opinion,a great test becomes great when both oppositions have equal cannons to target each other.We cannot call an "exiting finish" as a great contest when one team is spin heavy and the other is relatively more balanced.Few years back, Pakistan team had the most balanced team amongst all (with reference to bowling dept only).During mid 90's Pakistan had two quality quickies backed by another quick (two W's and third seamer Aaqib/shahid nazir/azhar etc).One quality leg break (Mushtaq ahmed) and one great offie (Saqlain).Australia used to had a great bowling but did not had a good off spinner like Pakistan did.But they remained champs because they also had a great batting and fielding to compliment their solid bowling.

  • Tendulkars_Tennis_Elbow on July 13, 2011, 5:14 GMT

    Finally, someone who gives Chennai 2001 the credit that is its due. IMHO, it was more gripping than Kolkata 2001. The third test between WI and Australia in 1999 ticked a lot of boxes for me. McGrath and Gillespie steaming in and Lara taking WI home with Walsh for company.

  • on July 13, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    1999 Chennai Test, India vs Pakistan have all the requisite balances that requested above. Each session match swings either side. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63828.html

  • inxia on July 13, 2011, 6:00 GMT

    I think the key point that was made here is that an epic Test "grips from gun to tape and doesn't depend on the cheap thrills of the frantic final lap". I remember hearing Christopher Martin-Jenkins talking about this topic after the 2005 Edgbaston Test and he placed a strangly high emphasis on an exciting finish making a great Test. Likewise, an email read out during the same conversation said that a high quality of play was not a requirement for a great Test. Nonsense. I agree with Rob that what made the 1960 Brisbane Test so great was that it was great on every level, probably in even more categories than the four mentioned.

  • Doogius on July 13, 2011, 6:21 GMT

    If your an Ozzy, its an Ozzy test match, India = Indian and so on. Why?? Probably because the only tests you've ever seen 'cover to cover' are ones involving your own country. I'll leave this one to the experts who at least have seen test cricket across the 'boards' - but it must be real hard to go past the 61 tied test. If Benaud and Worrell vote for it - who am I to argue???