July 25, 2011

Tied Tests and other tales

In our celebration of 2000 Tests, we look at some of Australia's more memorable Tests: Ashes classics, and wins over West Indies and India among others

Picking memorable Australia Tests was the most difficult of the lot - I could have chosen XI great Bradman Tests (now there's an idea!), or XI from the last couple of decades. So apologies in advance if any personal favourites have been left out.

v England, The Oval, 1882
The match in which an Australian side overthrew the full might of England for the first time. In a pulsating game, England needed only 85 to win - but the "Demon" Spofforth shook the home batsmen with 7 for 44, and they were all out for 77. Such was the tension that one spectator died of a heart attack, while another apparently chewed through the handle of his umbrella. Shortly afterwards a newspaper published a mock obituary lamenting the death of English cricket, and joked that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia... and the greatest of all sporting contests was born.

v England, Old Trafford, 1902
An otherwise wet summer was enlivened by two thrilling Tests. In this one, the fourth of the series, England needed only 124 to square the rubber at 1-1 after bowling the Aussies out for 86. But from 68 for 1 - and later 107 for 5 - wickets tumbled regularly, and it was eventually left to the last pair. But it was all too much for Sussex's Fred "Chubby" Tate, playing his only Test: with just four runs needed the No. 11 swished at left-armer Jack Saunders, was bowled, and departed in tears. England hit back with an equally exciting one-wicket victory at The Oval - the last pair George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes, two canny Yorkshiremen, supposedly said they'd get the winning runs in singles - but it was too late to salvage the Ashes.

v England, Lord's, 1930
A flawless 254, the innings Don Bradman thought was his best - "Every shot went exactly where I meant it to" - lifted Australia to 729 after England had made what had seemed a respectable total of 425, based around a captivating century from the Indian-born KS Duleepsinhji. With their captain Percy Chapman also making an attacking hundred, England reached 375 in their second innings - but that meant Australia needed only 72 to win, which they quickly achieved. The Don was becoming a problem for England - and remained a formidable one for the best part of 20 years.

v England, Headingley, 1948
Don Bradman's last great Test innings helped his side to a tremendous victory in the fourth Test in Leeds. Norman Yardley's declaration early on the final morning left Australia 404 to win, an unprecedented winning total at the time. But with Bradman (173 not out) and opener Arthur Morris (182) piling on 301 for the second wicket, and helped by some undistinguished bowling and fielding, they sailed home by seven wickets with about 15 minutes to spare, to take a winning 3-0 lead in the series. Their fourth-innings record stood for almost 30 years: not for nothing did this side become known as the Invincibles. Wisden solemnly intoned: "By the astonishing feat of scoring 404 for three wickets on the fifth day of the match when the pitch took spin, Australia won the rubber. Until that fatal last stage England were on top, but a succession of blunders prevented them gaining full reward for good work on the first four days."

v West Indies, Brisbane, 1960-61
An absorbing match, graced by superb centuries from Garry Sobers and Norman O'Neill, boiled up to a dramatic climax, with all four results possible as the imposing Barbadian fast bowler Wes Hall hurtled in to bowl the last over of the match. And it all ended with the least likely result of all - Test cricket's first tie - when Joe Solomon hit the stumps from side on to run out Ian Meckiff as he tried to complete the winning run. This was the first match of a superb series, which contained two other nail-biting finishes as well. At the end of the tour the popular West Indians, led by Frank Worrell, were given a tickertape farewell procession through Melbourne.

v England, Lord's, 1972
Probably the greatest debut performance by a bowler: Australia's Bob Massie, bending the ball this way and that at a lively pace, took eight wickets in each innings of his first Test to send England crashing to defeat and level a seesaw series, helped by Greg Chappell's superb century. I was there, an impressionable schoolboy imagining he was watching a future all-time great. But Massie played only five further Tests: the real all-time great was bowling at the other end... Dennis Lillee.

v England, Melbourne, 1976-77
Cricket's greatest party - anyone who had played an Ashes Test was invited, to celebrate 100 years of international cricket - looked like a damp squib when England made only 95 in response to Australia's modest 138. The Aussies then applied themselves rather better for 419, meaning England required an unlikely 463 to win. They also needed to survive deep into the fifth day to ensure that the Queen wasn't looking at an empty stadium when she popped in for an official visit. But thanks to Derek Randall, who made a sparkling 174, Her Majesty had something to watch - and it was nearly an amazing England win. In the end, though, Dennis Lillee's 11th wicket wrapped the match up with exactly the same result as the inaugural Test it was commemorating: an Australian victory by 45 runs.

v India, Madras, 1986-87
Dean Jones defied crippling heat (he ended up on an intravenous drip) to score 210, which lifted Australia to 574 - a total that ought to have insured them against defeat. But after India made 397 - a rollicking century from Kapil Dev averted the possibility of a follow-on - an enterprising declaration from Allan Border left them 348 to win. With Sunil Gavaskar (90) leading the way, India almost got there... only for last man Maninder Singh to be adjudged lbw to the penultimate ball of the match with the scores level (he's still convinced it wasn't out). Bob Simpson, who played in the first Tied Test in 1960-61, was Australia's coach in this one.

v Sri Lanka, Colombo, 1992
After conceding a first-innings lead of 291, Australia's thoughts were on avoiding defeat as they started their second knock. No one made more than David Boon's 68 - but also, no one failed to reach double figures, and the eventual 471 set a tricky target of 181. Sri Lanka were sailing along at 127 for 2, but then Aravinda de Silva holed out after an irresponsible shot, and the wickets started to tumble. Allan Border enterprisingly threw the ball to his young legspinner, who had had figures of 0 for 107 in the first innings: now he took 3 for 0 in 13 balls, and Australia sneaked home by 16 runs. Shane Warne had arrived.

v West Indies, Kingston, 1994-95
Beating West Indies had proved beyond a succession of Australian teams - Allan Border famously never won a series against them in his long career - but that all changed in the 1994-95 series in the Caribbean. The teams were locked at 1-1 before the final Test, but after West Indies posted a below-par total the Aussies responded with a massive one, the centrepiece a stand of 231 between the Waugh twins. Mark made 126, but Steve went on to his only Test double-century. It was enough: with Paul Reiffel and Shane Warne taking four wickets apiece West Indies never looked like avoiding an innings defeat, and the Frank Worrell Trophy was hoisted aloft by Australia for the first time in almost two decades. It was West Indies' first series defeat anywhere since 1979-80. "The great wall crashed at last," enthused Wisden. "After 15 years and 29 series, world cricket's longest-lasting dynasty was overthrown by the relentless, underestimated Australians - the most distinguished run of triumphant success gone with the Windies."

v India, Sydney, 2007-08
One of the most controversial Tests of recent times boiled up into an exciting finish. The middle of this second Test was overshadowed by an unpleasant argument between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, who claimed the Indian spinner had called him a monkey (Harbhajan was initially banned, then reprieved on appeal - but not before the Indian authorities had threatened to call off the tour). On the final day India looked to be hanging on for a draw before Ricky Ponting tried the seldom-used left-arm spin of Michael Clarke - who promptly took three wickets in his second over to spirit his side to a stunning victory with less than 10 minutes remaining. India bounced back to win the third Test (Australia had already won the first), then the fourth and final Test was a run-soaked draw in Adelaide, giving Australia the series 2-1.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011.