"To king and country!"
Donald MackInnon raises his glass and proposes the toast. If it sticks in the craw of the Victoria Cricket Association president to be so honouring two New South Welshmen, he doesn't show it. As he makes his speech on the outfield of the MCG at lunch on Boxing Day 1928, his fellow Victorians, who form the majority of the 14,000 at the ground, seem to share his delight. To be fair, what they have witnessed over the past several hours has been entertaining, royally so. Historic, too: Alan Kippax and Hal Hooker have just posted a new record for the tenth wicket in first-class cricket. Eighty-nine years later it still stands.
The pair, No. 4 and No. 11, had come together on Christmas morning at 113 for 9, a paltry response to Victoria's 376. Kippax needed the runs - although a classy player, he had failed in the first two Tests of the Australian summer. Hooker, though not quite the bunny he has often been portrayed as, was a regular No. 11 even for his club side, Mosman. A follow-on loomed. They made it to lunch, however. And they pushed on, past 150, 200. They made it to tea. And pushed again. Beyond 250, 300. Beyond Richard Nicholls and Micky Roche, beyond Frank Woolley and Arthur Fielder, previous record-holders. Their opponents, frustrated, tried everything: seven bowlers, a ring of close fielders around Hooker, near enough for him, one report suggested, to smell the Christmas festivities on their breath. By the close, they were only nine adrift of Victoria.
By mid-morning on the fourth day, their stand had reached 307, when Hooker offered his first chance - the first either had given in 304 minutes - and was held by the Victoria captain, Jack Ryder, for 62. In the press Kippax's unbeaten 260 was praised for its "triumph of steadiness"; Hooker, who took the greater proportion of the strike, in one session adding only four to his score, was hailed for his "great judgement" in keeping an end going for his captain.
While their effort failed to win their team the game, it did make plain something that all cricket followers understand: that the game is built on partnerships. And there are few so captivating as those constructed by the final-wicket pair, by those who refuse to be pigeonholed into the roles expected of them.
"At their purest, their most unadulterated, last-wicket stands must be put together by true tailenders - ideally Nos. 10 and 11"
Last-wicket stands remain printed on the memory when the more prosaic details of a game have been forgotten. They perk us up when a match is fading towards a dull draw or inevitable defeat. They provide hope and relief when an innings has become a battle against insurmountable odds. On occasion, they bring a game simmering with possible outcomes to a climactic boil.
In a mystical sense, they reveal our awareness of our own ephemerality. For the end is always only a moment away, and how players perform in such circumstances may be symbolic of the way human beings deal with the approach of the Grim Reaper. Go gentle into the night? Or all guns blazing, raging against the dying of the light?
Most of all, they put the element of play back into what is supposed to be a game, reminding us of a more innocent time when this was all supposed to be fun. But have we underestimated the influence these great subplots can cast over a contest? And in doing so, have we failed to celebrate them in their many forms? Investigation indicates, at the very least, the following seven subsets.
At the beginning of the 2013 Ashes, Phillip Hughes, playing the 25th Test of an up-and-down international career in which he had batted at Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, was joined by a 19-year-old debutant in Ashton Agar, their position an almost hopeless 117 for 9, a cacophonous Trent Bridge clamouring for Australia's humiliation. But Agar, playing with the freedom of youth, performed like the senior pro: he could drive, as Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn quickly found out; he could clobber - one pick-up over midwicket cleared by inches the head of a dutiful steward more interested in identifying misbehaviour in the stands than the excitement unfolding behind him; he could improvise - one paddle sweep exuded the sleight of hand of a pickpocket. By the time he was gone, two runs short of becoming the first Test No. 11 to post a century, he and Hughes had added 163, a new Test record for the tenth wicket.
Within 12 months, though, that had been broken again - at the same venue. Coming together with a deficit of 159, Joe Root and Anderson compiled 198 to give England a slight first-innings advantage over India. Root finished unbeaten on 154, Anderson on 81, his Test best by a distance. Anderson revealed his motivation afterwards. "Overnight we both thought we could actually annoy the Indians today and stay out there. I had really good fun - it's the first time I've really enjoyed batting."
Annoying your opponents notwithstanding, what this stand shows is that the breaking of records does not, by itself, an unforgettable tenth-wicket partnership make. The pitch, low, slow and so generally inhospitable to bowlers that it yielded only 29 wickets in five full days, had already produced a big last-wicket stand when Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami, Nos. 9 and 11, put on 111. The surface, rated poor by match referee David Boon, had fulfilled the statisticians more than the cricket-watching public.
1947: Frank Vigar (114 not out) and Peter Smith (163), Nos. 4 and 11, add 218 for Essex v Derbyshire to set up a five-wicket win. Smith's score is the highest by a No. 11 in first-class cricket
2002: Nick Knight (255 not out) and Alan Richardson (91), Nos. 2 and 11, add 214 for Warwickshire v Hampshire. A rare occurrence of an opener carrying his bat in a record last-wicket stand
If readers are already discerning a disconcerting undercurrent, that is not a surprise: at their purest, their most unadulterated, last-wicket stands must be put together by true tailenders - ideally Nos. 10 and 11. Yet the majority do seem to require the input of a recognised batsman, such as Root, a senior partner manipulating his team-mate's involvement by cajoling and encouraging, monopolising the strike, taking on the most dangerous bowlers. The stats bear this out: of the 26 last-wicket partnerships of 100 or more in Tests, only three were compiled by Nos. 10 and 11.
"How players perform in such circumstances may be symbolic of the way human beings deal with the approach of the Grim Reaper. Go gentle into the night? Or all guns blazing, raging against the dying of the light?"
Inzamam-ul-Haq knew he would have to do the cajoling when he was joined by the last man, Mushtaq Ahmed, with Pakistan still needing 57 for a record chase of 314 on the final day against Australia in Karachi in 1994. The ball was turning dramatically and Shane Warne was at his most menacing. "When I was left with Mush, my only aim was to take as much of the strike as possible," Inzamam told Cricinfo Magazine. After five overs of resistance, he came to the realisation that his partner was playing the ball so well, they could safely rotate the strike. The pair edged nearer the target, but the protracted nature of the pursuit began to prey on Inzamam's mind. "In a way, finding ourselves inching closer to the target put more pressure on us."
They had moved within three of a win when Warne switched to round the wicket, leaving midwicket free to encourage Inzamam to hit against the spin. Warne tossed up the most tempting of legbreaks. Inzamam strode down the wicket and positioned himself to clip it through the gap, Ian Healy missed the stumping and the ball, which sped away for four byes - and a famous Pakistan victory.
A stand that did meet the criteria of the purist, however, was between Somerset's Nos. 10 and 11, Jack Leach and Tim Groenewald, last season. "Summers turn on days like this," said the ESPNcricinfo report as the final day's play against Surrey at Taunton began, and it was prescient. Had they lost, Somerset would have been in the bottom two of Division One. Instead, a one-wicket victory lifted them to fourth and the momentum took them within a whisker of the Championship.
The pair came together at 270 for 9, with their team needing 301 for victory. Resisting the temptation to go for glory, they struck only two fours in 14.2 overs of nerve-jangling tension. Leach later described the fraught atmosphere: "As the ball was about to be bowled there would be a 'Shhhh' and you could almost hear the silence. Then, when we played a shot, the noise would erupt."
With just one needed, they played out 11 balls from Gareth Batty and Mathew Pillans before Groenewald pushed the winning single. It was a reminder that such stands are every bit about stubborn resistance and low numbers as cavalier strokeplay and high ones.
1975: Deryck Murray (61 not out) and Andy Roberts (24 not out), Nos. 8 and 11, add an unbroken 64 from 16 overs for a one-wicket win against Pakistan in a World Cup group game
2015: Hamid Hassan (15 not out) and Shapoor Zadran (12 not out), Nos. 10 and 11, put on 19 to see Afghanistan over the line against Scotland in Dunedin for a first-ever World Cup win
Lee Germon, the New Zealand captain, looked a haunted man, frozen in his seat as his team went in search of a result verging on the supernatural - a draw - on the final day of the first Test of England's tour of 1996-97. The 2000 who had turned up at Eden Park had witnessed what the New Zealand Herald described as "suicide disguised as cricket", as Adam Parore first ran out his skipper, then threw away his own wicket, stumped. At lunch the game seemed up, with New Zealand 105 for 8 and still 26 runs adrift of making England bat again.
But where most of his countrymen saw disaster, Danny Morrison, the skiddy fast bowler, saw opportunity. The man with so many noughts to his name in Test cricket that he once launched a duck-caller for hunters, joined Nathan Astle early in the afternoon session with the score 142 for 9, 11 runs ahead. The pair moved stealthily, Astle bold against the loose delivery, Morrison squeezing a single whenever he could. By tea they were 76 in credit; their unbeaten 106-run stand secured the draw. Astle made his third Test century, but there was no doubting who the real hero was. In his 14, Morrison had repulsed 133 deliveries, exactly the same as his partner. His approach certainly confounded England captain Michael Atherton, who knew the New Zealander from his time as an overseas player at Old Trafford. "From what I remembered he used to slog and block and I set fields for that," he was quoted as saying in David Norrie's biography, Athers. "This time, though, he restrained himself."
"I said to Cairnsy, 'I don't know what's going on here but let's enjoy it" Nathan Astle
"I rate myself as an underachiever with the bat," Morrison himself said afterwards, "and here was my chance to bore the tits off everyone." It would be his last innings in Test cricket.
2009: Jimmy Anderson (21 not out) and Monty Panesar (7 not out), Nos. 10 and 11, add an unbroken 19 to deny Australia a win in the first Ashes Test, in Cardiff
2014: Shaminda Eranga (0 not out) and Nuwan Pradeep (0 not out), Nos. 10 and 11, defy Stuart Broad for five balls, including an overturned lbw decision, to draw at Lord's
The heroic failure
Five years after the Morrison stand, Astle was involved in another incredible last-wicket partnership against England, this time in Christchurch. He was on 134 and the total 333 in New Zealand's second innings when the ninth wicket fell. The injured Chris Cairns, who had not been expected to bat, joined him with the unlikely target of 550 before them.
In fact, Astle's blistering assault had begun as soon as debutant Ian Butler had come in at No. 10 and the shiny, hard, second new ball had been introduced; on Cairns' arrival he merely switched to a higher gear. The first ball he faced from Matthew Hoggard, he charged down the wicket and hit for six over long-off. "Holy cow," was all Ian Smith could manage in the commentary box. Andy Caddick fared no better, as Astle smashed him for two fours and two sixes in one over, and three successive sixes at the start of his next.
When he finally edged behind to Hoggard, he had hit the fastest double-hundred in Test cricket, from 153 balls. The partnership was 118 runs in 65 balls and 55 minutes of absolute mayhem. No wonder Wisden considered it "the most glorious failure in the history of Test cricket".
"It was like, surreal," Astle admitted in an interview to Mark Nicholas. "Watching the highlights I thought, 'Is that really me?' It was amazing how far I hit the ball - I mean, out of the stadium a couple of times - and for how long it went on. I said to Cairnsy, 'I don't know what's going on here but let's enjoy it.'" Asked if that attitude, described by the BBC as "cavalier", had been a mistake in terms of seeking victory, he replied: "Mmmm, I've thought about that a lot. If I had my time again, we'd have reviewed the situation sooner for sure, say with just over a hundred needed and begun taking singles to get the field back up again."
It was a perfect example of a player "in the zone", an almost out-of-body experience that can encourage a partner to believe in their own omnipotence: the hobbling Cairns smashed three fours and a six in his own quick-fire 23 not out.
2005: Brett Lee (43 not out) and Michael Kasprowicz (20) Nos. 10 and 11, add 59 in 12 overs for Australia on the fourth day at Edgbaston, but when Kasprowicz is caught by Geraint Jones, Australia are agonisingly three runs short
2014: Moeen Ali (108 not out) and Jimmy Anderson (0), Nos. 7 and 11, defy Sri Lanka for 20.1 overs in Leeds, but Anderson, who faces 55 balls, is out off the penultimate ball
An article in the 2015 Wisden suggested that the "decent" last-wicket stand was becoming more - perhaps too - common. The fun was going out of them. Tail-end runs had become easier in an era of increased professionalism, flat pitches, bigger bats and shorter boundaries. There is almost certainly something in the argument - four counties, and 11 of India's 28 Ranji Trophy teams, have recorded their highest tenth-wicket stands since the turn of the century.
Yet, regardless of general improvement, you always needed to factor in that every dog could have his day - even a No. 11. Take Paul Adams. His came early. The 18-year-old with the "frog in a blender" action had faced only 14 balls in first-class cricket when he came out to join wicketkeeper Dave Richardson in the fifth Test against England in 1995-96 in Cape Town. What followed was a last-wicket stand described by Christopher Martin-Jenkins as "so astonishing, so out of proportion to what had gone before that it has probably decided the match".
"When Ramdin completes his hundred, and chides Viv Richards for his scathing criticism with the infamous "Yea Viv talk nah" note, Best, on 66, shouts to him: "Play for me now"
In 66 minutes, England threw away - or had snatched away from them - a position that old warhorses Angus Fraser and Peter Martin had spent four hours building. A nominal lead of 18 became 91 as England lost their discipline with the new ball, even though the tactic of bringing back Devon Malcolm to blast out a man without a run in Test cricket seemed a logical one. As it was, Adams got off the mark with a five, when Dominic Cork's wayward return added four overthrows to a single squeezed past gully. In an instant the atmosphere changed: Malcolm's four overs went for 26 runs, the crowd "ole-ing" each addition. Adams winked at Cork when he bowled him a bouncer; and he delivered the coup de grace, going down on one knee to smite Fraser through the covers for four, impishly - provocatively? - yelling "Wait" as he did so.
The stand gave South Africa unexpected initiative. Allan Donald ripped out Atherton before the close, and Shaun Pollock took five the next day as England slumped to defeat in three days and lost a tight series 1-0.
1946: Shute Banerjee (121) and Chandu Sarwate (124 not out) add 249 to take Indians from 205 for nine to 454 in the first innings of a tour match against Surrey, the only time Nos. 10 and 11 have scored centuries. The Indians win by nine wickets
1984: Viv Richards (189 not out) and Michael Holding (12), Nos. 4 and 11, add 106 in 14 overs to demoralise England and then bowl the hosts out for 168 in an ODI at Old Trafford
You've almost certainly never heard of Gunner William Riley. And why should you? Riley, of the Royal Garrison Artillery, perished on the killing fields of Belgium in August 1917 and was buried anonymously in a local military cemetery with 1600 others. He also left few ripples as a left-arm slow-medium bowler for Nottinghamshire. His role as the straight man in an absurd but historic passage of play in a County Championship match in 1911 is all but forgotten.
Riley, a confirmed No. 11 who averaged 8.60 with the bat, helped Ted Alletson add 152 for the last wicket against Sussex at Hove, a record for his county that stands to this day. Riley's contribution, 10, looks piffling when measured against his partner's 189 in 90 minutes, and he is largely ignored in Alletson's Innings, John Arlott's slim volume published 46 years after the event.
Alletson, a renowned blocker, had been given licence at lunchtime by a captain resigned to defeat - Notts led by only 84 with the last pair at the crease - and went into overdrive on resumption, smashing 142 in 40 minutes. Sussex's Robert Relf saw it this way: "He had one of those days when everything comes off. He just hit firm-footed. He made no attempt to get to the pitch of the ball, but unless it was right up to him, he hit under it, straight off the middle of the bat. I was at long-off and most of his drives were carrying as far as the hotel or over the stand to the skating rink [five balls were lost on its roof]. Most of the time he was hitting in the 'V'."
Yet it is clear that Alletson could not have teed off to such spectacular effect - 23 fours and eight sixes - had Riley not been holding up one end. The lone surviving scorecard showed that Riley's scoring shots were restricted to singles and threes: he had weighed up the situation perfectly and gave his inspired partner the strike at every opportunity. A perfect 10 from the No. 11.
1977: Ray Illingworth (119 not out) and Ken Higgs (98), Nos. 8 and 11, with a combined age of 85, hammer an astonishing 228 after Leicestershire are 45 for 9 against Northamptonshire
2001: Alec Stewart (65) and Andy Caddick (49 not out), Nos. 6 and 11, smash 102 in 12.4 overs against Australia at Edgbaston to rescue England from 191 for 9
Rain and bad light are blights that cricket followers learn to withstand with greater or lesser levels of endurance. But they can be the mainspring for passages of play that lift a game out of the doldrums.
"Adams winked at Cork when he bowled him a bouncer; and he delivered the coup de grace, going down on one knee to smite Fraser through the covers for four, yelling "Wait" as he did so"
Two days have been washed out at Edgbaston in 2012 when England win a belated toss and insert West Indies, who reach 280 for 8 by the close, with Denesh Ramdin on 60. His partner, Ravi Rampaul, goes third ball the following morning and Tino Best strides to the wicket. Best is playing his first Test for three years and is considered something of a joke as a batsman ever since Andrew Flintoff lured him to his downfall at Lord's in 2004. "Here's Tino. Mind the windows," ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentator states by way of introduction.
But this is a new Best, a man inspired by the recently released Fire In Babylon, a documentary celebrating the dominant West Indies pace attacks of the late '70s and '80s, although by his start it is as if he is channelling the spirit of an earlier era. Sobers-like drives unwind from his bat, he smacks Finn back over his head, he strikes the pose after every shot whether he has connected or not, an entertainment-deprived crowd lapping it up, the photographers snapping it up. He reaches a first Test fifty, ripping off his helmet and marking the moment with three joyful uppercuts of his right fist.
When Ramdin completes his hundred, and chides Viv Richards for his scathing criticism with the infamous "Yea Viv talk nah" note, Best, on 66, shouts to him: "Play for me now." Ramdin does, adding seven singles in 23 balls as Best's sensational innings moves within touching distance of its own century, which is where it unravels with a misguided hoick off a Graham Onions slower ball.
It was demonstration that last-wicket stands are subversive, they provide an illicit thrill - the saucy feeling, like small boys giggling at an aunt's funeral, that by all known parameters something is happening that should not be happening.
1951: Jasu Patel (152) and Hasan Nakhuda (15 not out) add 136 in 90 minutes in a lost cause for Gujarat against Holkar in the Ranji Trophy final
2011: Ravi Rampaul (86 not out) and Kemar Roach (24 not out), Nos. 10 and 11, smash 99 in 14 overs after being 170 for nine to set India a decent target in Vishakhapatnam