There is a reason Test cricket is considered the pinnacle of the sport. It mirrors life more than anything else and the classic ebbs and flows of the game make it a worthwhile exercise for us, the mere mortals, to engage in subordination to the sport’s magical powers.
It was all in the show at the Basin Reserve in Wellington as the longest format of the sport witnessed one of its finest advertisements when New Zealand defended 257 to bundle the Englishmen out for 256 to secure a one-run win. It was the narrowest margin for a victory in the Test format - one that epitomized the beauty of it, more than anything else.
However, this is not the first time that teams engaged in a bottleneck thriller to differentiate themselves by one run.
Windies beat Australia in 1993
The Windies side of 2023 may have been an obscure and dwindling Test outfit, but such was their dominance in the 1970s and 1980s that beating them was a dream that the teams could harbour. After going through the motions of Test cricket without losing a single series in 13 years, they were agonizingly close to losing a Test match in the 1993 series against Australia.
The game was contested in even terms and captain Richie Richardson himself scored 72 off 106 balls in the team’s second innings to post a target of 186 runs in the final innings of the Test. Australian bowler Tim May, who was playing his first match in four years, picked up a five-wicket haul in just 6.5 overs to hand Australia the advantage but things got spiced up when the hosts found themselves at 74/7 in the run-chase.
Justin Langer played one of the finest and most remarkable innings that day, fighting the might of the Caribbean pacers, led by Curtley Ambrose, to take the Aussies to 144/9 but such had been the advantage for the Windies that it was just perceived as a mere formality. Australia reached 184/9 with Craig McDermott taking strike when he failed to fend the ball properly and was dismissed to leave the Windies to win the Test by one run.
The decision is still perceived as controversial but the end product was one of the finest Test matches in the history of cricket.
New Zealand beat England by one run
For the sake of the sheer quality displayed, let’s not avoid the recent one. After England bazballed their way to victory in the first Test, New Zealand were under pressure to salvage pride in the Wellington Test but for that, a follow-on in the first inning was the last thing they expected. Things didn’t work out well till then but in the second innings, barring Will Young, everyone contributed to make sure New Zealand posted 483 to give England a target of 258 runs.
For the kind of approach that England have adopted in recent times, this was a simple equation really, but man, Neil Wagner, and Tim Southee had different ideas. Despite Joe Root’s best resistance, England were down to 215/8 and subsequently, bundled out for 256, losing the game by a solitary run.
Well, the Test of the Year surely, but don’t be surprised if this Test is remembered as one of the finest of all time, purely because of all drama involved.
Birmingham Test, 2005
The Birmingham Test of 2005 is considered one of the finest to have ever played, and the sheer drama of the match makes it a game to remember for ages. The difference between the result is only two runs but from a significant point of view, there was a whole lot to it. It was a victory that saved England from going 2-0 down in the series and then leading them to a historic Ashes win.
With Australia needing 107 runs with a couple of wickets in hand, there was not a lot that any of them could do but alas, it was written in stars on how things could be benefitted. A two-run loss marks England’s narrowest margin of Test loss, before their loss today.
The Melbourne heist, 1982
The Boxing Day Ashes has always held a different kind of vibe in cricket calendar. No match is as celebrated as this one, but in 1982, it transcended time to produce one of the finest and most memorable Test matches.
After being 2-0 down going into that fourth Test, England desperately wanted to seal the Boxing Day and New Year Test to retain the Urn and set a target of 292 runs on board. But some disciplined bowling resulted in Australia losing their ninth wicket on 218.
It was all down to Allan Border, who was stranded at the other end, and with Jeff Thomson, a complete mug with the bat, joining him from the other end, things were hardly in favour of Australia. Border continued to deny singles, and they added 37 runs on the fourth day, with another 37 runs needed on the fifth morning.
They moved the race brick by brick and when the scorecard flashed “four runs to win”, Thomson lost his mind and forgot the route that had yeilded him so much success. He went for his first expansive shot of the innings against Ian Botham and boom, Chris Tavaré pouched at first slip to hand Australia a heartbreaking three-run loss.
Manchester Ashes Test, 1902
The 73rd Test match, the Manchester Ashes Test in 1902 was a classic for ages. Both England and Australia went on toe-to-toe in the first innings, with Australia leading by 33 runs in the first dig, but when they were dismissed for 86 runs, things were suddenly in England’s favour.
England needed 124 runs to win the game, but apart from skipper Archie MacLaren, none of the batters had the mental bandwidth to sustain Hugh Trumble’s challenge. Eventually, England were bundled out for 120 and lost the game by a margin of three runs.
A remarkable game indeed.
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