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Ask Steven

Close-run victories, and left-handers opening up

The column where we answer your questions

The regular Monday column in which Steven Lynch answers your questions about (almost) any aspect of cricket:

George Headley: highest score in the fourth innings of a Test © Getty Images
Was England's two-run victory last week the closest in Test history? asked Sam Moore from Barking
The thriller at Edgbaston last week wasn't quite the closest Test of them all, although it was the closest by a runs margin in Ashes Tests, edging out the three-run nailbiters at Old Trafford in 1902 and at Melbourne in 1982-83. But at Adelaide in 1992-93 West Indies beat Australia by one solitary run. Shane Warne played in that match too, as did Justin Langer who was making his debut. For a full list of the close-run finishes, click here. There were even closer results in cricket's two tied Tests - when the team batting last was all out with the scores level - Australia v West Indies a t Brisbane in 1960-61, and India v Australia at Chennai in 1986-87. There have also been ten instances of Tests being won by one wicket - click here for a list of those.
In the first three Ashes Tests all four openers were left-handed batsmen. How often has this happened, and who were the players?asked Chris Moore from Australia
You're right in thinking this is a rare occurrence - it had happened only 11 times in all Tests before this series, all of them since 2002. The first time was at Sharjah in 2002-03, when Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer opened the batting for Australia, and Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat did the honours for Pakistan. After that it happened in all four Tests of the West Indies-Australia series of 2002-03 (Langer and Hayden again, and Devon Smith with Wavell Hinds and Chris Gayle for the Windies), in two of the matches of the 2004 England-New Zealand series (Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss, and Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming) and two of the West Indian Tests that followed (Trescothick and Strauss, and Gayle and Devon Smith), and two of the Australia-Pakistan Tests Down Under (Hayden and Langer, and Salman Butt and Imran Farhat) last winter. There have been five other Tests - the first one being between India and England at Bombay in 1961-62 - when there have been four left-handed openers used during a match but where a fifth (right-handed) opener was used in at least one of the four innings.
When was the last time nobody scored a century in the first two Tests of an Ashes series? asked Hillel Jacobsen of Johannesburg
You have to go back to the famous series of 1981 - the one later enlivened by Ian Botham - for this. The highest individual score in the first Test at Trent Bridge, which Australia won by four wickets, was Allan Border's 63, while David Gower's 89 was the highest score of the drawn second Test at Lord's. John Dyson - and, famously, Botham himself - put things to rights with hundreds in the third Test at Headingley.
One of my friends popped an interesting question to me the other day, and I wasn't able to give him a definite answer. What's the highest individual score in the fourth innings of a Test match? asked Dave Deonarine from Guyana
There have been five double-centuries scored in the fourth innings of a Test, and the highest of them was 223, by George Headley for West Indies against England a t Kingston in 1929-30. Next comes Nathan Astle's rapid 222 for New Zealand against England at Christchurch in 2001-02, Sunil Gavaskar's 221 for India v England at The Oval in 1979, Bill Edrich's 219 for England against South Africa in the "Timeless Test " at Durban in 1938-39, and Gordon Greenidge's unbeaten matchwinning 214 for West Indies against England a t Lord's in 1984.
Zimbabwe were bowled out twice in a day last week - had that happened before in Test cricket? asked Richard Peterson of Edgware
Zimbabwe were shot out for 54 and 99 by New Zealand at Harare last week. It had very nearly happened to Zimbabwe before - at Lord's in 2003 they lost 19 wickets on the third day, and again lost by an innings. But the only previous instance of a side being bowled out twice in a day in a Test came in 1952, when India were bowled out for 58 and 82 on the third day at Old Trafford. The most wickets to fall on any day in a Test is 27, which happened at Lord's in 1888. England, 18 for 3 overnight, were shot out for 53, and later made only 62 after Australia (who had made 118 on the first day) were bowled out for 60 on a pitch that was almost like mud after a lot of rain.
Who has played the most first-class matches without ever playing a Test? asked Krish Chandra from the USA
This list is dominated by English county players, some of who racked up enormous amounts of matches without ever playing a Test. Top of the list, with 668 matches, is the Glamorgan bowler Don Shepherd. Shepherd took 2218 wickets, more than anyone else who didn't win a Test cap. Six other men have played more than 600 first-class matches, but no Tests: Alan Jones, also of Glamorgan (645), Sussex's George Cox (634), Emrys Davies of Glamorgan (621), Hampshire's Peter Sainsbury (618), Ken Suttle of Sussex (612), and Leicestershire's Les Berry (609). Actually Jones did play once for England - but it was an unofficial Test, against the Rest of the World a t Lord's in 1970.

Steven Lynch is the deputy editor of The Wisden Group. For some of these answers he was helped by Travis Basevi, the man who built Stats Guru and the Wisden Wizard. If you want to Ask Steven a question, contact him through our feedback form. The most interesting questions will be answered each week in this column. Unfortunately, we can't usually enter into correspondence about individual queries