20 of Test Cricket's Most Nail-Biting Finishes
Test cricket has had its fair share of nail-biting and tense finishes, the kind of games where teams are so closely matched and the result is so incredibly close.
They are matches that live long in the memory, with those who watched remembering valiant efforts with the bat or ball from individuals who stepped up when needed most.
On the anniversary of West Indies’ one-run win over Australia in 1993, one of the best matches in recent times, let’s take a look at 20 of the best finishes in Test history.
1. England vs. Australia (Edgbaston, 2005)
It would be difficult to have a list such as this and not include at least one game from the 2005 Ashes series between England and Australia.
We start in Edgbaston, where England set the visitors 282 to win in the second innings but had them reeling on 175-8 at the start of the fourth day.
What followed was extraordinary, as Shane Warne and Brett Lee dragged the Baggy Green closer to their target, until Warne fell with the score on 220.
However, Lee and Michael Kasprowicz then took up the reins and took Australia to 279, just three short of a famous win.
Unfortunately for the Australians, Kasprowicz was dismissed by Steve Harmison—caught well by wicketkeeper Geraint Jones—and England prevailed by just two runs.
2. England vs. Australia (Old Trafford, 2005)
The following game, England once again had their opponents on the ropes, having set them 423 to win in the second innings.
Captain Ricky Ponting led his side brilliantly with 156, but when he was dismissed toward the end of the day by Steve Harmison, it looked all over for the Australians.
It was down to the last pair of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath, neither of whom was particularly known for being able to occupy the crease against rampant fast bowlers.
However, they managed to pull it off to the frustration of the home side and their supporters, meaning Australia left Old Trafford still level at 1-1 in the series.
3. England vs. Australia (Trent Bridge, 2005)
That 2005 Ashes series truly had everything, and the fourth Test at Trent Bridge was just as gripping, with England now under immense pressure.
The home side were chasing 129 to win having made the Australians follow on, but they were struggling at 116-7 in the face of a fired-up Brett Lee and a brilliant Shane Warne effort.
That brought Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard together, two tailenders who had some ability with the bat but would surely wilt under the pressure.
However, they inched their side closer to their target, and Giles hit the winning runs off Warne amid unbearable tension in Nottingham.
It was a crucial victory for England by just three wickets, their second in their 2-1 series win.
4. Australia vs. West Indies (Adelaide, 1993)
One of the greatest Tests of all time was played out in Adelaide in 1993 between an Australia team on the rise and a West Indies team in apparent decline.
Batting first, the visitors made 252 all out, then restricted the Australians to 213 all out, thanks in large part to Steve Waugh and Merv Hughes making 42 and 43, respectively.
The West Indians made just 146 the second time around, setting the Baggy Green 186 to win, and they were in real trouble at 74-7.
However, debutant Justin Langer dug in and was supported by No. 10 Tim May to drag their side closer.
Langer fell with the score on 144, but May continued his innings with the help of last man Craig McDermott, and the pair put on 40 to take Australia to 184.
However, needing only one more run to tie the game, McDermott was caught by Junior Murray off Courtney Walsh, and the visitors won by just one run.
It was a brilliant Test match, and the closest margin of victory for a team bowling second in history.
5. England vs. Australia (Cardiff, 2009)
Four years after their superb 2005 series, England and Australia were at it again in 2009, with the first Test in Cardiff arguably the best of the lot in that particular Ashes campaign.
Australia piled up 674-6 declared in response to England’s 435 all out, and the second time around, the hosts were required to hold on for the draw with just over a day left.
Paul Collingwood stepped up with 74 from 245 balls, but plenty of support came and went, and the final pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar needed to block out.
Between them, they faced 88 balls, and with the crowd on the edge of their seats, they managed to hold on until the umpires called time.
It was truly a great escape and was key in helping England establish themselves in a series they eventually won.
6. Australia vs. West Indies (Brisbane, 1960)
It was the first tied Test, and it took place between Australia and the West Indies at the Brisbane Cricket Ground in 1960.
The visitors made 453 first up, then Australia replied with 505, led by 181 from Norm O’Neill.
In their second dig, the West Indians made 284, to set Australia 233 to win, and the home side looked like they could sneak home at 232-9 with one ball remaining.
The last pair of Ian Meckiff and Lindsay Kline resolved to run regardless of the delivery from Wes Hall, but the seamer held his nerve to pressure the batsmen into a mistake.
Meckiff would be run out from that last ball as the batsmen scrambled through, with the Test finishing in a tie.
7. England vs. Australia (The Oval, 1882)
It was the Test that truly launched the Ashes rivalry between England and Australia, and it was an absolute cracker at The Oval in 1882.
The Australians were shot out for just 63 in their first innings, but in reply England could only manage 101, thanks largely to Frederick Spofforth’s 7-46.
The visitors then returned to the crease and made 122, meaning England required just 85 for victory in the only Test of the series.
However, Spofforth roared in to take another seven wickets, this time for just 44 runs, with England all out for 77.
Right until the end, both sides were in the hunt for victory, and it was only Spofforth’s intervention that prevented England from taking the win.
8. Sri Lanka vs. South Africa (Kandy, 2000)
South Africa and Sri Lanka played out a superb game in Kandy in 2000, which ended in the Proteas taking the win by just seven runs.
The visitors batted first and made 253, but then they kept the Sri Lankans to just 308 all out, meaning their lead was not that big going into the second innings.
Second time around, South Africa made 231 to set Sri Lanka 177 to win, and they looked on course when Arjuna Ranatunga made 88 and Russell Arnold made 40.
However, Nicky Boje managed to wreak havoc with his left-arm spin to remove both batsmen within 10 overs of each other.
Then, just as the Sri Lankans looked like they would sneak home, Chaminda Vaas was run out, then Muttiah Muralitharan was removed from his first ball.
It meant the Proteas won by seven runs, as Sri Lanka were all out by 169.
9. Australia vs. South Africa (Sydney, 1994)
As they made their first steps back in Test cricket after isolation, South Africa played out a great game against Australia in Sydney in early 1994.
The Proteas batted first and made just 169, then in reply Australia hit 292 to lead by over 100 runs heading into the second innings.
South Africa responded with 239, to set Australia just 117 runs to win, an infinitely reachable target.
However, Fanie de Villiers came in fired up to take the first four wickets, while Allan Donald took the crucial wicket of captain Allan Border.
In spite of that, Craig McDermott looked in good touch and nearly took his side home with 29 not out, although last man Glenn McGrath would be dismissed with the score on 111.
That meant the Proteas won by five runs, and it was another example of Australia failing to chase down a small target in the fourth innings.
10. England vs. South Africa (Old Trafford, 1998)
South Africa dominated England in the third Test of their 1998 series at Old Trafford but could not break through an astonishing rearguard from the home side.
The Proteas had a massive lead after making 552 batting first, with England then folding for just 183 and being asked to follow on.
In their second knock, with the draw the priority, captain Alec Stewart did his bit with a huge 164, while Michael Atherton also dug in with 89.
However, England’s middle and lower order folded, which meant Robert Croft and Angus Fraser had to survive as the last pair.
With Allan Donald roaring in, they managed to cling on amid high tension and draw the game for England, who went on to win the series.
11. Australia vs. India (Sydney, 2008)
In the second Test of the 2007-08 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Australia and India played out a thriller in Sydney that was ended by a part-time bowler.
India needed 333 to win and looked to have seen out the draw on a turning wicket before Michael Clarke was brought on to bowl his occasional left-arm spin.
Against the odds, Clarke took 3-5 in 1.5 overs, with all those three wickets coming in one chaotic over.
With less than 10 minutes left, he removed the last man, Ishant Sharma, to send the hosts into raptures and help them win by 122 runs.
12. England vs. South Africa (Trent Bridge, 1998)
This Test between England and South Africa in 1998 featured one of the most thrilling passages of play ever, which made it a game for the ages.
In the second innings, England opener Michael Atherton stood up to a fearful bombardment by Allan Donald, who was desperate to remove the obdurate batsman.
Atherton stuck at it manfully, taking a number of blows and seeing off the threat of “White Lightning,” who was fired up.
England went on to win by eight wickets, with Atherton unbeaten on 98 in one of his best-ever innings at just the right time.
13. Australia vs. England (Melbourne, 1982)
The Boxing Day Test between Australia and England in 1982 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was a magical affair, in which the visitors prevailed by just three runs.
Australia took a lead of just three runs from the first innings, and England set them 292 to win the game.
The hosts were in a good position with David Hookes and Allan Border, but Hookes was out for 68, and the rest of the lineup subsided.
In the end, Border was left stranded on 62 not out as Norman Cowans took 6-77 to leave the Australians all out for 288, just short of their victory target.
14. Australia vs. New Zealand (Hobart, 2011)
New Zealand’s series away to Australia was very close indeed, with the second Test in Hobart the highlight.
In a low-scoring game, Australia were set 241 to win and looked to be sailing home led by opener David Warner’s aggressive knock.
However, no one was able to stick around and support him, and Warner ended up on 123 not out with his side just seven runs short.
Doug Bracewell was the Black Caps’ hero with the ball as he took 6-40, while Warner’s total was exactly 100 better than the next-highest score of 23, made by Usman Khawaja.
15. India vs. Pakistan (Bangalore, 1987)
Pakistan and India’s fifth Test in Bangalore was a classic between two big rivals in their 1987 series.
It was another low-scoring encounter, with Pakistan making 116 all out first time around but then restricting India to 145.
Pakistan’s 249 in their second innings set India 221 to win, and Sunil Gavaskar looked to be taking them home almost on his own.
However, he fell for 96 with the score on 180, and while the tail did well to creep toward their target, India were eventually dismissed for 204, just 17 runs short of a famous win.
16. India vs. Australia (Mumbai, 2004)
Another very low-scoring game resulted in a very close finish between India and Australia in Mumbai during the 2004-05 Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
India made 104 batting first, but then kept Australia to 203 for a lead of just 99 on the first innings.
Then, the hosts managed to make 205, thanks to half-centuries from Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, to set the away side just 107 to win.
However, on a turning pitch, the Australians folded for 93, with only three players reaching double figures.
They came close to the win, and Nathan Hauritz gave them hope with 15 at No. 9, but they fell just 13 runs short.
17. India vs. Pakistan (Chennai, 1999)
In Chennai in 1999, India and Pakistan played out a classic that left the home crowd on their feet applauding the victorious Pakistani players.
India were set 271 to win and looked in good shape, thanks to Sachin Tendulkar, who made 136 from No. 4 and was supported well by 52 from Nayan Mongia.
However, the pair were dismissed within five overs of each other, with the score on 254-7 when Tendulkar was caught off Saqlain Mushtaq.
Pakistan were then able to wipe out India’s tail and leave the home side on 258 all out, taking the victory by 12 runs.
18. England vs. Australia (The Oval, 1902)
The fifth Test of the 1902 Ashes was a classic between two very talented teams that had a shot at winning.
Australia batted first and made 324, and in reply England could only manage 183.
However, the Australians were then dismissed for 121, to set England a big target of 263 batting last.
Things did not look good for the home side, but then Gilbert Jessop made a rapid 104 from 77 balls to drag England closer from the perilous position of 48-5.
It was then left to the final pair of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes, who put on 15 for the final wicket to win.
Hirst reportedly said “We’ll get them in singles, Wilfred,” although that story was likely apocryphal.
19. India vs. Australia (Chennai, 1986)
The only other tied Test took place in Chennai—then known as Madras—between Australia and India in 1986.
The Australians batted first and made 574, thanks to a battling 210 from Dean Jones and other centuries from David Boon and Allan Border.
India made 397 to get close in the first innings, and then Australia made 170-5 declared to set India an improbable 348 to win.
However, they got incredibly close, thanks to 90 from Sunil Gavaskar, while Greg Matthews and Ray Bright took five wickets apiece for Australia.
India fell just short of victory as Maninder Singh was caught leg before wicket (lbw) by Matthews, and the Indians were all out for 347 to tie the game.
20. Sri Lanka vs. South Africa (Colombo, 2006)
Sri Lanka had some problems against South Africa in Colombo in 2006 but still managed to sneak a victory in a tight game.
The away side made 361 in their first innings, and then Sri Lanka hauled themselves close with 321 all out to concede a lead of just 40 runs.
In reply, the Proteas racked up 311 to set the hosts 352 to win, a difficult target on a slow wicket.
However, captain Mahela Jayawardene led from the front with 123 to drag his side close, but it still needed the last pair of Farveez Maharoof and Lasith Malinga to see them home.
The pair got the two runs they needed for victory and took Sri Lanka over the finish line by just one wicket.