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From Melbourne 1877 to Rawalpindi 2022: travelling through time to witness the best matches

A fantastical travelogue traverses time and space to witness 15 of the most thrilling contests in cricket, from England to the subcontinent and Australia

Flight of fancy: if you could travel to any cricket match in history, which ones would you be at?  •  Laurence Griffiths/Allsport/Getty Images

Flight of fancy: if you could travel to any cricket match in history, which ones would you be at?  •  Laurence Griffiths/Allsport/Getty Images

The idea for this article came to me about a couple of months ago: what if I embarked on an imaginary journey, circumnavigating the world, across the years, watching cricket matches. An apt description of this journey could be "Around the world in 1000 years" or "70,000 kilometres above the clouds".
I need two machines for this odyssey. The first is a time machine that will take me back and forward in time. While I admire HG Wells' imagination, I will opt for a more modern version - TMACE (Time Machine for Ananth's Cricket Extravaganza), based on the magnificent TARDIS. The second is a medium-sized plane to ferry us across the globe, covering those vast ocean journeys with a single filling of the tanks. The Gulfstream G800 will cover even our longest trip without ditching us in water. Let us say that we have found sponsors who have made these two wonderful machines available to us. Needless to say, we need to move in the time dimension first and then do the distance.
I will do this around-the-globe journey in two legs. In the first, I will start my journey in England, travel through the Middle East, Indian subcontinent, and reach Australia. On the return leg, I will leave head east to New Zealand from Australia, then westward to Africa, the West Indies, and then north-east to England. I will include Tests and ODIs in this travel odyssey. A few points on their selection.
  • I decided that Australia and England would get five matches each, since the idea of Test cricket started with these two teams and they have also played the highest number of Tests. The other teams share 20 matches between them in an equitable manner.
  • Since the two legs start and end in England and Australia, I split the matches of these teams across the two legs.
  • The sequence of countries visited is more or less geographically determined.
  • The overall results matrix has been carefully calibrated, with all teams getting appropriately similar representation. I have an Excel sheet that serves as a storyboard and this will be made available to the readers in the next article of this series.
  • No particular strategy has been used to determine the travel sequence within a country. In certain cases, geographical proximity has been used. No attempts have been employed to optimise/minimise the time traversed and distance travelled.
Our first match is at The Oval. So no travel is needed. But this is a match from well over a hundred years ago, so we have to crank up the TMACE. Let us go back 121 years, to be precise, to near the end of the 1902 Ashes series, in Victorian England. Australia have won the series and are leading 2-0. Only pride is at stake in the last match. A 0-3 drubbing at home would be too much to bear for England. Let us splurge and take a Rolls Royce to The Oval. Maybe a top hat and an umbrella will come in handy.
Australia win the toss, bat first and score 324. Almost everyone contributes, with Hugh Trumble's 64 being the highest score. Then Trumble is unplayable with the ball and we see England slide to 183. Ah, a 3-0 scoreline, it looks like. But we see that Bill Lockwood, supported by the other bowlers, dismisses Australia for 121. Even so, few give England a chance when they start the chase of 263.
And the chase goes downhill, with Jack Saunders picking up the first four wickets, leaving England struggling at 48 for 5. Then Gilbert Jessop joins Stanley Jackson and adds over 100 for the sixth wicket. George Hirst gives Jessop good company. Then Jessop is out and it is time for another slide, which brings the score to 248 for 9. Wilfred Rhodes joins Hirst. "We'll get 'em in singles," they supposedly say. And they do get the runs, if not necessarily in singles, to win a tough match by one wicket. Trumble bowls unchanged in both innings. Our journey has started with a magnificent edge-of-the-seat match.
It is August 15, 1902. We need to move forward to 1999, to a format that will be unveiled around seven decades from the present day. Our travel is within England, and we move 97 years into the future, to Edgbaston, around 200km to the north-west for the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup. The winner of this match will start the final, three days later, as the favourite to win the World Cup.
Australia bat first and flounder against South Africa's top-quality pace bowlers Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. Fifties by Michael Bevan and Steve Waugh take them to a barely competitive 213. Shane Warne spins his magic web around the South Africans, and they find themselves at 213 for 9 in 49.3 overs. Unfortunately, they choose to take a risky run immediately and Donald is run-out. The match ends in a tie - and Australia go through to the final because of their higher league position. The expensive drop by Herschelle Gibbs off Steve Waugh in their last league match would haunt them forever. Australia go on to win and South Africa's trophy cupboard remains bare, even 23 years later.
We get into our TMACE and move bag, baggage, plane and fuel to our next stop - 2017. We are in modern times and have to make a long journey to the Middle East - to Abu Dhabi. Sri Lanka have come to the UAE to play Pakistan in a seemingly neutral match. However, this is an away game for them and no one can dispute it. Pakistan are indeed a tough team to defeat in the UAE. Sri Lanka bat first and score 419. They are held together by an excellent 155 by their captain, Dinesh Chandimal. Pakistan match this total with an all-round batting display. The lead is less than a boundary's worth.
Then Sri Lanka, on a turning pitch, are no match for Yasir Shah, and are dismissed for 138, leaving Pakistan with a low target of 136 to win. It seems like a mere formality. But not for that lion-hearted Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath. He opens the bowling and breaks the back of the strong Pakistani line-up with a magnificent 6 for 43. Dilruwan Perera supports him well and Pakistan fall 21 runs short. A truly wonderful win for the Sri Lankans.
Now that we are in Asia, our journeys are not going to be long in terms of space covered. First, we go forward to 2022, and eastwards to Rawalpindi, a mere three-hour flight.
This is the English team, trying to change the face of Test cricket. When in doubt, attack. When in trouble, attack. When well placed, attack. With the willow or ball, attack. And Ben Stokes produces a magical win when any other captain would have been content with a draw on a flat batting track reminiscent of the 1960s. Stokes wins the Test with some terrific decisions. All-out attacking batting on a dead pitch and scoring at over 6.5 in the first innings, not in the least bothered by the 500-plus score Pakistan produce in response; scoring at over seven runs per over in their second innings, declaring at a low target, giving Pakistan an equal chance; attacking fast bowling to get a couple of key early wickets, employing reverse swing and spin as required, and securing a win for the ages with just a few minutes to spare. Stokes did not allow Pakistan to think of a draw at any time. For the record, England scored 657 and 264 for 7, and Pakistan scored 579 and 268.
Now we move to 1994. And then on to Karachi. Mark Taylor's Australians are visiting Pakistan and this is the first Test. Shane Warne, the magician, is the cynosure of all eyes. Will he bamboozle the Pakistani batters as he did the English, New Zealand and South African ones? Only time (or the time machine) can tell.
Australia score 337 and then take a useful lead of 81 runs, but in the second innings they collapse from 171 for 2 to 232, with some sustained top-drawer pace bowling by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Still the target is 314, seemingly high. Then Warne does his thing again and leaves Pakistan struggling at 258 for 9. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed add 57 priceless runs to take the home team to a memorable win. Warne cannot get the last wicket, but finishes with eight in the match.
Now we travel about four years into the future and fly a couple of hours to get to Peshawar. A strong Pakistan team hosts Zimbabwe. A walk in the park, it looks like. Pakistan score 296 and most of the batters contribute. They then dismiss Zimbabwe for 238 - a score that includes an all-time great century by Neil Johnson. He scores 107 in 117 balls, off a very strong bowling attack, walking in at 63 for 4. Then Henry Olonga rips through the Pakistani top order and they collapse for 103. Zimbabwe make light of a low target of 162 and win by seven wickets. Arguably this is the best win ever by the Zimbabwe team and one of the best ever away wins by an unfancied team.
Let us now go across to Mohali in India, and forward by 12 years - to 2010.
Australia and India have had some defining moments in the last two decades. It started with India stopping the Steve Waugh juggernaut in a stunning recovery in Calcutta in 2001. Then in 2003, India held Australia to a draw away, having the edge in the series. In 2004, Australia triumphed in an away series, winning in India after 35 years. In a contentious series in 2008, India were beaten 2-1. They then won the home series later that year comfortably. Now in 2010, Australia are visiting India again and the first Test is being played in Mohali.
There are two 400-plus scores in the first innings, with very little to separate the two teams. Then Australia are dismissed for 192, leaving India a seemingly simple target of 216. However, Doug Bollinger and Ben Hilfenhaus are deadly and soon reduce India to 124 for 8. There is hope for India as long as VVS Laxman, who comes in late at No. 7, is batting. Ishant Sharma, who matches Jason Gillespie in defence, takes most of the strike and lasts 92 balls. Then he is out and Laxman takes India to a great win in the company of Pragyan Ojha. Laxman's 73 takes only 79 balls.
Next we move within India, going back by 11 years and flying three hours to reach the great cricket-following city of Madras. The year is 1999 and it is the first Test between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan are dismissed for 238, a barely competitive total. Anil Kumble is almost unplayable with 6 for 70. Despite a three-ball duck for Sachin Tendulkar, India manage to take a first innings lead of 16 runs. In the second innings, Shahid Afridi plays unarguably his best Test innings. He opens the batting and scores 141, nearly half the Pakistan second-innings total of 286. Without this innings, Pakistan would have lost heavily. The Indian target is 271 - tough, considering the Pakistani bowling attack. They lose five wickets for 82 but still have Tendulkar in the middle. He plays one of the greatest innings ever in a losing cause. He adds 136 with Nayan Mongia, but loses him at 218. Then Tendulkar himself is dismissed at 254 and India collapse to a 12-run defeat. The sporting Madras crowd gives both teams, especially Pakistan, a standing ovation.
Still in India, we move back 40 years, going north to Kanpur. The year is 1959 and a strong Australia team, led by Richie Benaud, is visiting India. India have been well beaten in the first Test. In a desperate measure, they bring back Jasu Patel, who has done nothing of note in the four Tests he has played so far. India play poorly and score only 152. Then Patel, the spinner from nowhere, takes 9 for 69 and Australia secure a lead of only 67. In the second innings, many Indian batters contribute and India reach 291, setting a middling target of 225. Patel and Polly Umrigar then spin Australia out for 105 and India secure a famous first-ever win over Australia. Patel takes 14 wickets in this Test but none in the next two.
Let us move eastwards to Chattogram in Bangladesh, and forward to 2019. Afghanistan, a feisty country that punches above its infancy status in the Test game, are in Bangladesh. It is an almost a foregone conclusion that the home team will win comfortably. Helped by a hundred from Rahmat Shah, Afghanistan reach 342. The captain, Rashid Khan, contributes a quickfire 51 and then takes a five-wicket haul, helping Afghanistan take a very useful first-innings lead of 137. With a different set of batters contributing, they reach 260 and set Bangladesh a tough target of 398. Rashid goes one better in the second innings and Afghanistan complete an easy win on the last day - only their second in Test cricket. Rashid's performance, 11 wickets and 75 runs, is among the best ever by a captain.
We move down south-west to the Emerald Isle after going back 27 years. Australia are the visitors. They put up a meek show and get a sub-par first innings score of 256. Sri Lanka's strong team, buoyed by three hundreds by Asanka Gurusinha, Arjuna Ranatunga and Romesh Kaluwitharana, secure a near-300-run lead. The match seems over. An innings win seems likely. Then Australia score 471, without a single century. All the batters contribute. The target is still a reasonable 181. But Greg Matthews and Shane Warne run rings around the host's batters and Sri Lanka collapse from 127 for 2 to 164. Australia emerge the unlikeliest of winners - by 16 runs. Warne takes the last three wickets in less than 20 deliveries.
We now move forward a few years and travel 125-odd kilometres to reach the lovely town of Kandy, 2000. The strong South Africans are the visitors. They recover from 34 for 5 to a respectable 253, thanks to a top-quality hundred from Lance Kluesener. Sri Lanka take a useful 55-run lead. South Africa do not do all that well the second time around and the final target of 177 looks like a cakewalk for the hosts. However, the all-round bowling attack of the visitors keeps Sri Lanka down to 169, the South Africans winning by seven runs. A tough win in really tough conditions. In the second innings, we see that the Sri Lankan openers, Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya, are both dismissed first ball - a rare occurrence indeed.
We now take our longest time-travel trip in this journey of ours - 123 years - and then a ten-hour flight. It is 1877 and we are in Melbourne. Back to where everything started. We have a grand-stand view of a new and exciting chapter in the game of cricket - the first ever Test match. The match, between a combined New South Wales & Victoria XI and the visiting English team, is subsequently accorded Test status.
The first ever ball in Test cricket is bowled by Alfred Shaw to Charles Bannerman. Bannerman goes on to play one of the greatest Test innings of all time. His 165 out of 245, we know, has stood the test of time. John Hodges bowls the first ball for Australia to England's Harry Jupp. The bowling is, to say the least, interesting - a combination of lobs, normal deliveries, and grubbers. Australia secure a first-innings lead just short of 50, which is to prove crucial. Australia collapse in their second innings and are dismissed for 104, leaving a simple target for England. However, they fall short by 45 runs. Tom Kendall bowls unchanged for 33 four-ball overs.
We now move across two World Wars and a whole lot of years - 83 to be exact, but not too far in space - just a couple of hours' fight to Brisbane, where we watch a game in, arguably, the greatest Test series ever played. Frank Worrell's West Indies versus Richie Benaud's Australia. Two huge first innings, either side of 500, leave the home team leading by around 50 runs. West Indies score 284, leaving Australia a middling target of 233. They are 92 for 6 when the two allrounders, Benaud and Alan Davidson, get together. They take the score to 226 and a comfortable home win is on the cards. Then Wes Hall strikes and a spate of run outs by the brilliant West Indians keep Australia to 232 - the first tie in the history of Test cricket. Garry Sobers, Norman O'Neill, Davidson, and of course the two charismatic captains, do not deserve to lose.
For the final trip of this odyssey, we move forward over three decades and south-west to Adelaide. The tough West Indians are visiting again and Australia have a 1-0 lead after three Tests. This is a Test West Indies have to win to have any chance in the series. They bat first and reach a middling total of 252, which is enough to secure a useful lead of 39. Curtly Ambrose is unplayable, taking 6 for 74. Then Tim May goes to town and his 5 for 9 shoots West Indies down for 146, leaving a sub-200 target for the hosts. Australia start poorly and 16 for 2 becomes 74 for 7 and 102 for 8. There is some resistance but they lose their ninth wicket at 144. Then Craig McDermott joins Tim May and the two put on a terrific partnership of 40 in nearly 20 overs. Finally, with a single run needed to tie the match, McDermott edges the ball to Junior Murray. Doubts about whether McDermott actually did edge the ball do not take the sheen off one the greatest Test matches that has ever been played - the only one-run win by a team.
It is time to take a break in lovely Adelaide for a month. The TMACE and the G800 need servicing and we also need to take a break. We may even have time to visit the Great Barrier Reef. And the iconic Bradman Museum at Bowral. And the Opera House in Sydney. Maybe the Rock also. Once we start our westward journey, we will have no time to relax. Some of the flights are very long indeed.
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems