As most purists will tell you, Test cricket is still the pinnacle of the sport. It requires the greatest level of skill, tactical nous and stamina, and on the rare occasions when little separates the two sides even after five days of attrition, provides the greatest finishes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Test matches (and one series) to have ever been played.
England vs Australia, Headingley (1981)
This is the match that many believe to be the greatest Test of all time, and at least for the
English it’s easy to understand why. It was just the second occasion in the game’s history
that a team won after being asked to follow on, which England were forced to do after
being bowled out for just 174 in the second innings.
In their follow-on innings, England were still 122 runs in arrears when they lost a fifth
wicket. It’s hard to imagine what a victory would have been paying at that point, but it’s
likely Australia’s odds would have been switched off and England would be somewhere in
the triple figures.
Enter Ian Botham. Beefy came out and smashed 149 from 148 balls to give his side a
puncher’s chance, setting the Aussies 130 for victory. It was still not a hugely daunting
target and at 56/1 Australia looked comfortable, but Bob Willis came along and took an
extraordinary 8/43 to bowl them out for 111 and secure England an incredible 19-run
South Africa vs England, Durban (1948)
It might have been a long time ago, but this was nonetheless one of the most thrilling ends to a Test match that cricket has ever seen. In a low-scoring affair, South Africa managed just 161 in the first innings before England responded with 253. The home side was battling at that stage, but courtesy of an 85-run partnership between Billy Wade and Denis Begbie, they managed to set England a competitive target of 128.
Throughout the final innings a close result seemed likely, but no one could have predicted how close. With two balls remaining, all three outcomes remained possible. England were 126/8, meaning they needed two runs to win, South Africa needed two wickets, and a draw needed neither of those two things. The home side missed their chance on the second last ball, and England needed just a run to win off the final delivery. The ball cannoned into Cliff Gladwin’s leg, dropped in front of him, and he and Alec Bedser scampered through for a single to complete a memorable win.
Australia vs India, Gabba (2021)
Historically, series between Australia and India have been won by the home side. In fact, until 2019, India had never won a series down under, but heading into the 2020/21 edition of the Border-Gavaskar trophy, there were doubts about whether they could do it again and solidify their spot as the world’s best Test team. Those doubts were only amplified when they lost the first Test by 8 wickets having been rolled for just 36 in the second innings, and though they managed to climb back to 1-1 heading into the fourth and final Test, they were missing virtually their entire bowling attack through injury as well as the one and only Virat Kohli.
They held their own in the first couple of innings, but by the time Day Four ended they had
been set a monumental 328 for victory and had just a day to do it. At 1/18 things were looking dire, but prodigious young talent Shubman Gill put together a brilliant 91 to give them a chance. After he was dismissed and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane followed soon after, Rishabh Pant entered the fray. The diminutive wicket-keeper had been overlooked for the first Test, but he proved his worth in spades with a brilliant 89* to lead his side to a 3-wicket win with just over 3 overs remaining, handing them back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in the process.
The Ashes Series (2004/05)
So entertaining was the 2004/05 edition of cricket’s oldest rivalry, the entire series deserves
a mention. That series, of course, fell during Australia’s dominance of world cricket when the likes of Ponting, McGrath, Hayden and Warne were running around, and when it had been nearly two decades since England had last won the urn.
Australia won the first Test by 239 runs and things looked ominous for the home team heading to Edgbaston. It was there, however, that one of the great Tests in history took place, with Freddie Flintoff famously winning England the game by dismissing Michael Kasprowicz, Australia’s number 11, when the visitors needed just two runs to win.
A loss there would have seen the series just about over, but instead it headed to the third Test at 1-1, and another thriller took place. It ended up a draw, with England just one wicket short of victory and Australia needing 54 more runs at the close of play. England snared the fourth Test – yet another thriller – by just 3 wickets, but with Australia having won the previous Ashes, a loss in the fifth would still have seen the visitors retain the trophy. England, however, managed to hold on for a famous series win, securing the Ashes for the first time since 1987 in the process.
Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Sharjah (2014)
At lunch on the final day of this Test match, nobody in their right mind would ever have predicted it would end as one of the most exciting of all time. Sri Lanka had just been bowled out for a thoroughly mundane 214 off 101.4 overs, with the innings meandering along at a rate of just 2.1 runs per over. The rest of the Test hadn’t been much better, and the end result was that Pakistan required 302 runs in the final two sessions. At the best of times that would be highly improbable, but given how the rest of the Test had been played, it seemed impossible.
And yet they did it. Led by a 103 from Azhar Ali and rapid-fire scores of 48 and 68 from Sarfraz Ahmed and Misbah-ul-Haq respectively, Pakistan snuck over the line with one over to go. Perhaps never in Test cricket history has the ending of a match sat in such stark contrast with the way the rest of it was played, and it’s for that reason that this match sneaks in as one of the greatest Tests of all time.