Any sport played over a longer period of time is likely to see the better or more favoured team come out on top.
Test cricket is a battle of attrition and skill. It tests mental and physical elements of a person or team to the very limits. The set-up of the format almost entirely prevents major upsets or shocks. It is a simple and sometimes quite painful way of identifying which team is better.
Only 11 countries have ever been granted Test status as the sport almost intentionally keeps itself insular, limiting the chances for teams to improve at a fast rate and, therefore, limiting the chances of the aforementioned major shock even further.
And yet, such is the magnificence of cricket with all of its quirks and often unusual variables, the occasional surprise comes along – and such is the context of the sport that has gone before it, that surprise feels even greater.
This is a list, a subjective list, of the five greatest shocks in the history of Test cricket…
SOUTH AFRICA beat Australia by 82 runs in Melbourne in 1952
Ahead of the MCG Test of 1952, which began on Christmas Eve, South Africa had been beaten in a competitive match at the Gabba a couple of weeks earlier to kick off the series with Australia, winning by 96 runs.
In that first Test, Neil Harvey scored what turned out to be a match-defining first-innings century for the Australians. Harvey, after the Tour, said that many believed the Tour wasn’t worthwhile because South African cricket “didn’t warrant an Australian tour”. He went on to explain that “a few weeks before there was clamour that the trip should be cancelled”.
This wasn’t just one-sided on the part of South Africa not necessarily being good enough; Australia were also very good. Australia hadn’t lost a Test series in 20 years since Douglas Jardin led England to victory in 1932/33. At that stage, no country other than England had ever denied Australia a series victory.
Prior to the 1952/53 series, South Africa had beaten Australia just once in 30 Test matches. That one victory coming in 1910. 42 years later, though, they earned their second glorious triumph.
An excellent second-innings 162 from Russell Endean allowed South Africa to overturn a 16-run first-innings deficit and post 388, setting the Australians 373 to win. Hugh Tayfield took 7-81 in 37.1 overs as the Proteas bowled their opponents out for 290. The series went on to finish 2-2 after five Tests, meaning that South Africa became the first side other than England to avoid a series defeat against Australia.
PAKISTAN beat England by 24 runs in London in 1954
In 1952, Pakistan were granted Test match status. Their first series came against arch-rivals India in a hard-fought Tour. India hosted the five-match series and did win it 2-1 but for Pakistan to win their first ever Test match in their first ever series was something quite special.
In the next 18 months that followed, Pakistan did not play any Test cricket as nobody invited them and nobody visited them due to concerns over their standard. Then, for the first time ever, they visited England.
This wasn’t necessarily a great England team but it was still England. ‘Still England’ means that England had played 83 Test series, Pakistan had played just one. England had lost just four of their previous 26 Test matches and those defeats came against the West Indies and Australia.
The first Test saw Pakistan bowled out for 87 with Lancashire legend Brian Statham taking 4-18. Concerns grew over the weaknesses and limitations of the Pakistani team. However, a five-wicket haul for Khan Mohammad saw Pakistan limit England to 117-9 before England declared. Pakistan were bowled out again cheaply for 121 but the rain-ruined game ended in a draw.
England won the second Test by an innings and 129 runs. Denis Compton scored 278 as England declared on 558-6 after bowling Pakistan out for 157 in the first-innings at Trent Bridge. The first Test was viewed as a fortunate draw for Pakistan and England’s hammering of them in Nottingham was expected to be repeated in the rest of the series.
Pakistan, once again, were bowled out cheaply. After England scored 359-8d at Old Trafford, England dismantled Pakistan in 56.5 overs, bowling them out for 90. Asked to follow-on, Pakistan ended up 25-4 after 15 overs. Once again, the rain earned Pakistan a draw.
Then, from nowhere, came one of the greatest shocks in Test match history. Pakistan led by three runs after the first-innings as their 133 all out played England’s 130 at The Oval. Then, in the last innings of the Tour, Pakistan managed their highest score – they were bowled out for just 164. It was low-scoring but didn’t matter as Fazal Mahmood took a six-fer to bowl England out for 143 in 68 overs. Mahmood finished the match with figures of 12-99 in 60 overs.
ZIMBABWE beat Pakistan by seven wickets in Peshawar in 1998
The first two victories that have been mentioned were not necessarily catalysts for those sides but they did have a major impact on the rest of the world. They are matches that people can look back on and think “ah, that’s where this really started”… unfortunately in this next instance, it might have been the peak.
Zimbabwe began playing Test match cricket in 1992. Their first ‘series’ was a one-off match against India which finished as a draw. They would play 15 further series’ before winning one and, once again, that one was a one-off match against India at home.
Before their Tour of Pakistan 1998, they hadn’t won a multi-match Test series and they had won just two out of 31 Test matches that they had played and they had never won abroad. They had even lost to Pakistan 1-0 in a two-match series at home in 1997/98, just eight months prior.
So, when the Zimbabweans turned up in Peshawar, it was expected they would be hammered. After the first-innings of the first Test, it looked like that would be the case too, as Pakistan managed a 58-run lead, despite a century from Neil Johnson for Zimbabwe.
Henry Olonga, though, took four wickets for 42 runs as the Zimbabweans skittled Pakistan for just 103. Wasim Akram took eight wickets in the match and 3-47 in the second innings but he could not prevent Murray Goodwin leading Zimbabwe to a seven-wicket victory, chasing down 162 in 48.2 overs.
Zimbabwe held on for a draw in a rain affected second Test in Lahore before the third Test in Faisalabad was abandoned. Alistair Campbell had led a Zimbabwe team that also included Heath Streak, Andy Flower and Grant Flower to their first ever overseas series victory.
BANGLADESH beat England by 108 runs in Dhaka in 2016
The Tigers of Bangladesh. A wonderful story of over-performance and relative success that is beginning to frustrate and dissipate into under-performance and stagnation. Despite that contradiction, one thing for sure is that Bangladesh have most certainly had some special moments.
In 2016, Bangladesh had been playing Test cricket for 16 years since their debut in the 2000/01 Tour of India, a tour that saw the Indians win a one-off Test match 1-0. They didn’t win a Test series for five years until they edged out Zimbabwe 1-0 at home in a two-match series. Their first overseas series win came in the West Indies in 2009.
Bangladesh had played England in 2003/04, where they lost a two-match series 2-0. They played in 2005 and lost a two-match series 2-0. They played in 2010 and lost a two-match series 2-0. They then played an enthralling match against England in mid-October 2016. England won the game by 22 runs in a thrilling fourth-day finish.
Then came the second Test match and the eighth time that England had played Bangladesh. In Mirpur, Bangladesh posted 220 in the first-innings via a wonderful Tamim Iqbal century. England just about went past that, reaching 244 in 81.3 overs. A magnificent third innings of the match from Bangladesh in which they scored 296 and involved four of the top five scoring 40+ gave The Tigers a shot, setting England a difficult 273-run chase.
A difficult 273-run chase that Alastair Cook and Ben Duckett began with ease. In just 23 overs, the pair had brought up their century stand with Duckett scoring a maiden Test half-century at an impressive strike-rate. Duckett fell the following ball. A Mehedi Hasan Miraz-induced collapse ensued as England fell from 100-0 to 164 all out with 6-77 on debut for Mehedi supported by 4-49 for Shakib Al Hasan.
It wasn’t to be Bangladesh’s only great moment to date, though…
BANGLADESH beat New Zealand by eight wickets in Mount Maunganui in 2022
In 2021, New Zealand defeated India in a six-day Test match in Southampton to be declared the inaugural winners of the ICC World Test Championship. Bangladesh finished bottom of the table with four series defeats from four and six match defeats from seven, with one draw thrown in.
New Zealand’s recent home record was exceptional: NZ 2-0 Pakistan (2), NZ 2-0 West Indies (2), NZ 2-0 India (2), NZ 1-0 England (2), NZ 2-0 Bangladesh (2), NZ 1-0 Sri Lanka (1), NZ 1-0 England (2), NZ 2-0 West Indies (2).
They then came up against a Bangladesh side that since that famous Dhaka victory against England in 2016 had gone back to being on a slump in Test cricket. In the 32 Tests that followed, they won seven. They also came into the Test match in Mount Maunganui without key men Tamim Iqbal, Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman.
After batting for 108.1 overs, New Zealand posted a score of 328 on what appeared to be a fairly dull pitch. It began as though this would be another fairly formulaic Kiwi home win. Bangladesh, though, managed to take a lead of 130 into the second innings after half-centuries from Mahmudul Hasan Joy, Najmul Hossain Shanto, Mominul Haque and Liton Das.
New Zealand then found themselves in deep trouble as they collapsed from 136-2 to 169 all out in just 20.1 overs. Ebadat Hossain took 6-46 as Bangladesh eyed an astonishingly unlikely victory. Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim saw them home to an eight-wicket victory.
To add context and really emphasise just how unusual and surprising this result and performance was: in the second Test, New Zealand scored 521-6 before declaring and then bowling Bangladesh out for 126 and then 278, winning by an innings and 117 runs.