Test cricket has perhaps remained alive till date, despite the growing popularity of T-20 cricket due to some cracking contests between teams, which has increased their rivalry. Exciting cricket is what attracts fans to flock to the stadiums to cheer for their countries. There have been a few series in the past 13 years when teams have staged an inspired comeback to win the Test series, despite losing at the beginning of the series. Here are some examples of such instances which have actually occurred in Test cricket and are a glaring proof of the fact that a series is never lost till its last ball.
1) England vs. South Africa, 1998 (England won 2-1 in 5 Tests)
This was one of the most anticipated Test series of that year. South Africa’s stocks had taken a huge rise following their consistent performances in both ODIS and Test matches. The nation had a promising captain in the late Hansie Cronje who was delivering results as a leader and an extremely skilled team to back him. They were definitely coming in as favourites to win this series.
England, on the other hand had a point to prove that they were atleast capable of winning at home following their Test loss to Sri Lanka at the Oval a few weeks prior to this series. Their Test stocks had clearly plummeted and this was the time for redemption and ideal preparation for the Ashes in Australia in the upcoming months.
The first Test of the 4 Test series was played at Edgbaston, Birmingham in the first week of June. It ended in a tame draw but the hosts surprisingly got the upper hand going into the following three Tests as they batted first and were bowled out for 462 in the first innings. South Africa, in reply fell for just 343, giving England a first innings lead of 119 runs. But rain played spoilsport, which made England declare at 170/8 in the second innings, with the umpires deciding to call off the game.
But the host’s poor record at Lord’s continued with the visitors winning the second Test match by 10 wickets at the ‘home of cricket’. England captain Alec Stewart won the toss and chose to field first, believing that his bowlers should take advantage of the wet conditions at the start of the game. But South Africa batted with determination, courtesy a hundred from the fielding sensation Jonty Rhodes in the first innings to get to 360. Then, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock created havoc to bowl England out for 110 and make them follow on. The home team was never in the game as bridging a gap of 250 runs in those conditions was a mountainous task. South Africa, though were made to bat again but had to chase just 15 runs to win the Test.
Another draw was to follow at Old Trafford, Manchester with England being extremely fortunate to survive till the last ball of the final day of the Test match, with just 1 wicket hand since they had to again follow on in the second innings. This was a better batting track and South Africa who had luck with the coin, amassed 552/5 in the first innings. England were shot out for a paltry 183 in what was another poor first innings batting performance. They were better in the second innings courtesy a captain’s innings from Stewart and some resistance from the last wicket pair of Robert Croft and Angus Fraser ensured a draw and not an innings defeat for England, which could have meant the end of the series for them.
The home team had nothing to lose going into the last two Tests, as they had to win both of them to win the series. They were inspired by the draw in the last game perhaps, and put up a scintillating performance at Trent Bridge, Nottingham in the fourth Test to win by 8 wickets despite trailing by 38 runs in the first innings. England’s pacers won them the game while the top order fired in the second innings in a chase of 247. This match also marked Andrew Flintoff’s Test debut and his first wicket was of Jacques Kallis.
So it was 1-1 with the decider being at Headingley, Leeds. England won the toss and chose to bat first, which was a brave decision due to the conditions at the start which were likely to favour the South African pace attack. This was a match which belonged to the bowlers as none of the sides scored above 250 in any of the innings, but it was a tight contest in which England eventually prevailed by 23 runs. The match was marred with poor umpiring decisions in favour of England, but credit cannot be taken away from the hosts to come back against a strong South African team, to win 2-1.
2) India vs. Australia, 2001 (India won 2-1 in 3 Tests)
This was the year when Australia had to come over to India for a full-fledged tour towards the end of February, but first they had to defend the Border Gavaskar Trophy in a 3 match series against India. Steve Waugh, who was the captain of the world champion team, called India ‘The Final Frontier’ since he wanted to be the first Australian skipper to win a Test series in the country since Bill Lawry in 1969, knowing the team had not been successful.
Still, Australia were tipped to win the series comfortably by many cricketing pundits and not only by Australian fans but even Indian fans due to the position Indian cricket was in. The team had just moved on from the match fixing scandal the preceding year, and the side was in transition with a new captain in the uncompromising and intuitive Sourav Ganguly and the first ever foreign coach of the team, John Wright taking over a few months ago. Besides, the team’s headaches began even before the series started with an injury to their numero uno spinner Anil Kumble.
The opening Test of the series was to be played at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Steve Waugh won the toss and surprisingly elected to field first, which was considered as a courageous decision due to the nature of the Wankhede track in particular, which can deteriorate largely as the game goes on. However, the message that he wanted to send to the Indians was that the team had a more than capable bowling attack to challenge the Indian batsmen and the mind games caught on with the hosts.
India were bowled out for 176 in the first innings, with the homeboy Sachin Tendulkar top scoring with 76. Shane Warne ended with 4 wickets in the innings, his first real success in his otherwise poor outings in the country. Australia in reply were left in tatters at one stage, at 99/5 following a failure of the top order to fire. But Australia’s future ODI opening pair, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist put up a 197 run partnership for the 6th wicket which took the game away from India, with the pace at which it was scored at. Gilly went berserk, hitting 122 off just 112 balls as his alongside Hayden’s ton took Australia to 349 all out. That proved to be enough as the hosts were bowled out for 219 in the second innings, with another fifty of Tendulkar in vain. Australia had only 47 runs to chase, and finished the match off in 7 overs, and as a result won by a thumping 10 wicket margin to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
The next Test was at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata which had a maximum capacity of 100,000, which makes the atmosphere electric. This was the Test match which changed Indian cricket completely, from being pushovers in Tests to superpowers in the last decade. Many also consider this as one of the greatest Tests played of all-time as this was the only the third instance in the history of the game that the team goes to win the match despite having to follow on in the second innings.
Australia won the toss and elected to bat first and captain Waugh’s century took Australia to a huge 445 in the first innings, despite Harbhajan Singh picking up a hat-trick with the wickets of his ‘bunny’ Ricky Ponting, Gilchrist and Warne. But India were staring a huge innings defeat at the beginning of the third day as they were bowled out for 171, with VVS Laxman top scoring with 59. Waugh decided to enforce the follow on since they had a massive lead of 274 runs.
And the rest they say is history. John Wright’s idea of making Laxman bat at No.3 worked wonders in the second innings as he alongside Rahul Dravid put up a spectacle of a partnership which made the Australians go down and out by the time it came to an end. They put together 376 runs for the fifth wicket as Dravid stayed steady at one end, while Laxman decided to take the Aussies on, and was severe on Shane Warne who had no clue how to stop him. The Hyderabadi showed artistry in his batting and his 281 is remembered till date as one of the finest Test innings ever played by an Indian. Dravid finished at 180, as India declared at 657/7 and the match had taken a big U-turn.
Australia needed 384 runs to win the match but were dismissed for 212 on the final day itself. There was some resistance from Hayden due to his 67, but Harbhajan was on fire and made a name for himself in international cricket with match figures of 13/196 as his and Laxman’s colossal efforts helped India beat the world champions and end their winning streak of 16 Tests on the trot.
It was 1-1 with the final Test to be played in Chennai. Australia batted first once again and Hayden’s terrific form in the series continued with a 203 in the first innings, off just 320 balls. The first innings of 391 could have been more if Steve Waugh was not given out handling the ball. For India, Harbhajan once again stole the show with 7/133, which included Hayden’s wicket. When India came out to bat, the top 6 batsmen were confident to perform well but once again Tendulkar showed his love affair with the Chidambaram Stadium as he hit another century on the ground, this being his 25th. His 126 took India to a huge 501 in the first innings, which gave them a 120-run lead.
In the second innings, Australia wilted under the heat and Harbhajan’s deliveries which were almost unplayable. Mark Waugh scored a fifty but Bhajji was even better, finishing with figures of 8/84 which included Ponting’s wicket again, and providing with a much threatening display of bowling then in Kolkata, as he ended with 15/217 in the match and as a result 32 wickets in 3 Tests. This was the beginning of Harbhajan’s rivalry with the world’s premier cricketing nation.
However, the match was not over as yet and Australia did not give up so easily, the champion team that they are. Chasing 155, India were 101/3 with the wicket of Tendulkar. Laxman was in imperious form as he scored another fifty. But he fell in the 34th over which was Australia’s 6th wicket and India still needing 20 runs to win. However, there was no repeat of Chennai 1999 as Sameer Dighe, the wicket-keeper scored 22 crucial runs and appropriately it was Harbhajan who hit the winning runs with the bat with a two off Glenn McGrath’s bowling.
India had beaten Australia 2-1, and it began a new chapter in world cricket as India would go on to challenge Australia’s champion status time and again. Their vulnerability was exposed for the first time under Steve Waugh’s leadership. It was only after 3 years that they would return to win a Test series in India with Gilchrist being captain of the team.
3) England vs. Australia, Ashes 2005 (England won 2-1 in 5 Tests)
Australia was involved in a similar series loss as the one in India, four years later when they travelled to England to defend the Ashes trophy. Australia, this time led by Ricky Ponting, were the favourites to win due to the strength of his team with the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee forming an impressive bowling attack. While the batting consisted of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer who were the best opening pair in Test cricket at the time, Ponting himself being in superb form, and a young but upcoming middle order.
England on the other hand, had improved in the last 12 months with series wins in West Indies and South Africa and at home against New Zealand, West Indies and Bangladesh. The team was building very well with Michael Vaughan tasting success as captain and forming a fine partnership with coach Duncan Fletcher. Yet, the pressure was on the home team to deliver following a tied NatWest series final and a loss to Australia by 1-2 in 3 ODIs prior to the tournament. Besides, Australia began to play mind games with McGrath believing that England would be whitewashed 5-0 at home.
The massive hype built up saw a huge turnout for the first Test of the series at Lord’s. Vaughan won the toss and surprisingly asked Australia to bat first, although the decision makes some sense because of the overcast conditions on that day. But this was unlike England, which usually prefers to follow the ‘safety first’ approach. They wanted to take the fight to the Australians, being the bullies who would dictate terms more often than not. Another move which was striking was Steve Harmison bowling the first over of the innings instead of Matthew Hoggard, and Harmison was able to ruffle up the Australian openers in a prelude to what was to come.
The world champions were bowled out for 190 in just 40.2 overs in the first innings with Harmison picking up a five wicket haul and Langer top scoring with 40. England had the opportunity to bat Australia out of the game but McGrath once again proved why he is such a legendary bowler. The home side was reduced to 21/5 at one stage with all the batsmen falling in single digit scores. If Harmison’s spell was hostile, McGrath’s spell was beautiful to watch. 17 wickets had fallen by the end of the first day’s play. And it had to take a well-deserved fifty from debutant Kevin Pietersen to get England close to Australia’s total, if not above it.
McGrath had done enough damage, which resulted in England scoring 155 and trailing by 35 runs. England would on to drop key catches in the second innings as Australia reached 384 with fifties from Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich. That set the hosts to create a world record to win, they had to chase 420 on a wicket which was about to be worn out and having to face a fired up Australian bowling attack. Eventually, they couldn’t as Warne and McGrath combined together to destroy the batting line-up despite a resistant fifty from Pietersen in the second innings, which made him amongst the elite group of players to have scored two half centuries on Test debut.
Australia crushed England by 239 runs in four days time, with a clinical performance. McGrath won the man of the match award for his nine wicket haul and England were criticized for not having played the veteran Graeme Thorpe in this Test match although Kevin Pietersen was mighty impressive in his very first Test with the bat. One more mistake and the Ashes were to go out of England’s hands once again.
However, the sense that there would be a turnaround for the home side came an hour before the second Test at Birmingham. Glenn McGrath had injured his foot having accidentally stepped up on a hard season ball during training, while he was chatting with the reserve keeper Brad Haddin. England were nervous at the time at the toss as this was their best chance to hit back.
In a move that shocked almost every cricket fan and even the English players, Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to field first on a track which had lots to runs to offer. Perhaps, this was Australia’s way of saying that so what if they don’t have McGrath, they can win without him. Yet, what Ponting did not realize is that being 1-0 up, Australia could have batted England out of the match and the series as well and the fact that this is exactly what the hosts wanted as they had prepared all morning to bat first on the pitch.
And the world champions paid the price for it. England surprisingly had a run rate above four in the first innings as Australia’s bowling attack looked spineless without McGrath as Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne were all smashed for runs to all parts of the ground. There were no hundreds as yet from an English batsman but fifties from Trescothick, Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff took England to 407, batting out the entire Day 1.
Australia, in reply were bowled out for 308 although their run rate was also similar to England’s and ensured that another result was on the cards, unless weather plays spoilsport. Justin Langer seemed to be the only batsman who was comfortable in tackling the English pace battery with a sedate 82. Ponting scored his first fifty of the series, but England had dominated the Aussies as they were caught off guard with the spin of Ashley Giles as well as the swing Simon Jones generated and Flintoff’s pace to a huge extent.
With a lead of 99, this was the signal for the hosts to pile on the agony on the Australians with three more days remaining in the Test match. However, Australia once fought back tremendously courtesy the under fire Lee who finished with four wickets and Warne once again, who this time took six wickets. Flintoff hit an enterprising 73 off 86 balls, which took his match aggregate to 141 runs. England were shot out for 182 in the second innings, as the Aussies were right back in the contest having left to chase 282 runs to win with ample of time left in the game.
The English bowling attack however, had their tails up as the Australian batsmen fell like a pack of cards. Flintoff bowled one of the finest overs one can ever see in Test cricket, getting Langer out in the second ball of the over and beating Ponting’s bat in his next five balls, which included a no ball but he was able to pick the wicket of the Australian captain in the same over, on the last ball. None of the top order batsmen fired as Australia were down on their knees at 175/8 by the end of the third day’s play, following the wicket of Michael Clarke.
English fans were already celebrating in the belief that their team would bowl out the champions in the first hour of day 4. However, Shane Warne and Brett Lee, the heroes of the second innings put up a solid fight as they made the hosts toil for their wickets. They proved that the team had a massive depth in their batting as both of them put together a 45-run stand until Warne was dismissed for 42 by Flintoff, unfortunately being hit wicket.
But the No.11 Michael Kasprowicz seemed to be inspired by Warne’s resistance and was helped by a dropped catch from Simon Jones from third man as he contributed 20 runs in the chase. Steve Harmison, who was quiet in the game so far, rallied for one last effort and succeeded by ending Kasprowicz’s stay at the crease as Geraint Jones took a clean catch of a ball looping up in the air of the glove. Although the decision was disputed, it did not matter as England had won a humdinger of a game by 2 runs, with the euphoria of the crowd and the English players understandable.
It was one of the greatest Tests of all-time, perhaps beating the 2001 Kolkata Test as this was a nail-biting finish with Australia fighting till the very last ball of the match. Andrew Flintoff may have won the man of the match award, but also won many admirers for his act of sportsmanship after the game as he consoled a dejected Brett Lee on the field, who hit a valiant 43 not out. This despite the fact that England and Australia seem to have genuine hatred for each other, but now Flintoff and Lee are extremely good friends, setting an example to the young generation.
Finally, the fans were not likely to be a one-sided Ashes series after ages. This English team had proven their resilience at Birmingham. Come the third Test at Manchester, and it could have been a repeat of Birmingham with the match following almost a similar course. Although McGrath made a return for Australia, it did not matter an in form England who after winning elected to bat first and again were aggressive from the outset. These were conditions which were even more batting friendly than the previous Test and the home side made full use of it.
England ended with 444 in the first innings, with the captain Michael Vaughan scoring a majestic 166, returning to form in style. Ian Bell also proved his worth with a half century, his first in Ashes cricket as Lee and Warne were once again amongst the wickets, both taking four each. Australia struggled again while batting second, as the batsmen continued to be out of sorts, wilting under the pressure created by the hosts due to the bowling being top class. It had to take a courageous 90 from Warne to get Australia just above 300 and avoid following on in the second innings. The legendary leg-spinner proved that he is no mut with the bat, in an innings which saw Simon Jones take six wickets with his reverse swing rattling the visitors.
England continued to make the Australians feel the heat in the second innings with a century from opener Andrew Strauss whose quickfire 106 made Vaughan declare at 280/6, leaving the Aussies 423 runs to win the Test match. But Ricky Ponting produced a spectacle of innings, beating Strauss’ effort with a determined 156, showing the class he has had over the years as a batsman. The Australian captain finally led from the front with the bat with no other batsman scoring a fifty. He was given out off Harmison with the score being 354/9 and a few overs were left in the day’s play. Eventually, it took some resistance from the last wicket pair of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath to bat it out for a draw, as the home side missed out by 1 wicket on what would have been their second consecutive win against the world champions.
Australia were seen celebrating a draw, which was a rare instance since they usually settled for nothing but a victory. This was a clear proof that the team was in a crisis situation already, and England could not have squandered this chance of winning the Ashes. The fourth Test at Trent Bridge was a testimony to this fact as England outbatted Australia once again in the first innings with 477 on the board, after winning the toss and batting first without having to face McGrath.
Andrew Flintoff had finally come to the party with his all-round skills with a 102, top scoring in the innings as keeper Geraint Jones’ 85 also helped in the cause. Australia had already seemed to given up with the conditions not playing that big a role. Jones picked up another 5 wicket haul as the visitors succumbed to 218 in response to the 477, which made the World No.1 team follow on in the second innings.
They were much better though, but the runs on the board did not prove to be enough to set the Englishmen a daunting target to win the game. A total of 387 was a team effort from the Aussies with several fifties, while from England all the bowlers were successful barring Jones who got injured after bowling just four overs. 129 was England’s target, but Australia as in the past make life difficult for their opponents, when their backs are to the walls.
The world champions proved that although the entire team was out of form, they still deserved to be No.1 for their fighting abilities. Warne magic was to be seen as he picked a four-wicket haul and almost made Australia claw their way back into the series. Yet, England chased down the target, prevailing by 3 wickets and leading the series 2-1, with one to play at The Oval.
Australia had nothing to lose at The Oval but nothing was going in their favour as the team collapsed from 264/2 to 367 in the first innings, despite hundreds from Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. England tremendously made inroads into the Australian batting line-up, to gain a narrow lead of 6 runs in the first innings. The world champions though, still had the chance of turning the tables around with enough time left in the Test match to bowl England out. But Pietersen denied the Aussies any chance of a win, with a brilliant 158 off just 187 balls to end a superb debut series for him.
In the end of the Test, the visitors had to settle for a draw due to rain not allowing any further play in the match. England had won the Ashes for the first time since 19 years, with Vaughan being the first skipper since Mike Gatting to lay his hands on the biggest albeit the ‘smallest’ prize in Test cricket. The urn was back in England for the next 15 months, as this was a big wake up call for the champions to play better cricket if they had to remain champions in Test cricket.
While for England, this series revived their standing in Test cricket as several players were born out of it that are still a part of the team that is now World No.1 as per the rankings. Shane Warne won the man of the series award for taking as many as 42 wickets, while for England; Andrew Flintoff had performed similar feats as Ian Botham did in 1981, to share the award.
4) South Africa vs. India, 2006 (South Africa won 2-1 in 3 Tests)
South Africa were coming into the Test series after a high following a 4-0 whitewash in the ODI series against India at home itself. While India’s failures in the ICC Champions Trophy and the ODIs had rattled them enough, but this was their chance of taking atleast some fond memories away from this tour with an improved performance in Tests. India did have an opportunity to win another overseas tour following a 1-0 win in the 4 Tests in the Caribbean in the summer of 2006.
The first Test was at the Wanderers Stadium which is also known as the Bull Ring in Johannesburg. Rahul Dravid, the Indian captain made a bold decision of batting first after winning the toss, despite there being overcast conditions and a greenish wicket to bat on. Déjà vu of Headingley 2002, isn’t it?
However, this time India did not amass much runs on the board, ending their first innings at a modest score of 249, with the comeback man Sourav Ganguly scoring an unbeaten 51 off just 101 balls. But the visitors did not lose heart after what they saw the South African bowlers do. South Africa had no idea what was in store for them, because the 7-Test old S Sreesanth was about to create a storm with a devastating spell of fast bowling.
Sreesanth picked the wickets of captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock in a span of 10 overs as he gave away 40 runs, in South Africa’s paltry total of 84 in the first innings. It showed the immense talent he possesses with the ball, especially in the longest format of the game. India were back on to bat early in the second day itself, ahead by 165 runs from the home team.
VVS Laxman played another patient knock under pressure, scoring 73 as India folded for 236 in the second innings. But the highlight of the Indian batting was when Sreesanth started dancing on the pitch wildly, after hitting South African fast bowler Andre Nel for a six. But that left the hosts to chase down a massive 402 to win the Test match with two and a half days still remaining.
None of the South African batsmen went on to play a big knock, except Ashwell Prince whose 97 kept the team still in the hunt to pull off a challenging chase. But Sreesanth was at it again with another three wickets, with his match tally in the end being 8/99 as he won the man of the match award. South Africa were bowled out for 278, handing India a colossal 123-run victory, which was their first ever in the country and a genuine chance to win an away series.
The next Test was at Kingsmead, Durban. Although Durban has a huge Indian population, yet the team has had a poor record on this venue in both formats of the game till the 2011 tour. South Africa had some fortune with the coin, as Smith won the toss and elected to bat first. Ashwell Prince seemed to be in sublime form out of all the batters, hitting the first hundred of the series with a 212-ball 121, batting at No.5. Fifties from Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher took South Africa to 328, while Sreesanth proved that his Jo’burg performance was no fluke with a four wicket haul, once again being the pick of the Indian bowlers.
India had to bat deep to negate any chance of South Africa winning the game. But their bowlers put up another clinical performance as the visitors were bowled out for 240, despite a 115-ball 63 from the otherwise out of form Sachin Tendulkar while Laxman hit yet another fifty, proving that he was so far the best Indian batsman on the tour. South Africa took a gamble by playing five bowlers which was a risky move against India’s strong batting line-up, but it paid off high dividends as the conditions suited them completely.
They bundled the visitors out for 179, defending 355 runs in the second innings successfully despite Sreesanth picking up another four wickets in South Africa’s second innings to end up with again, eight wickets in the match. South Africa squared the series in grand fashion, winning by 174 runs with Makhaya Ntini winning the man of the match award for his five-wicket haul being instrumental in India’s failed run chase.
The decider was to held at Newlands in Cape Town, which is traditionally where the last Test of South Africa’s home summer takes place, like The Oval in London for England. The wicket here though was tempting for the Indian batsmen, since it was more of a wicket favouring spin and more subcontinental type which was likely to deteriorate as the game goes on. The advantage further was with India who won the toss and chose to bat first.
Wasim Jaffer, the ex-Indian opener scored a 116 off just 244 balls, putting up 153 for the first wicket with wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik. Karthik, Tendulkar and Ganguly all scored fifties to lead India to a huge score of 414 in the first innings. But South Africa never gave up their hope despite India having Anil Kumble in their ranks. The top order scored heavily this time around to make South Africa end their first innings at 373 all out, although India gained a slender lead of 41 runs.
What was to follow was a horrendous batting performance for the Indian fans to watch, from one of the strongest batting line-ups in the world. Skipper Dravid top scored with 47 in India’s appalling 169, with Ganguly almost matching him with his 46. But the manner in which Tendulkar batted might have suggested that his days in cricket were numbered, playing spinner Paul Harris negatively during his 62-ball 14. Dale Steyn made his breakthrough in international cricket with a four-wicket haul as the home team needed only 211 runs to win the match.
The chase was complete on the final day with Smith’s fifty and Ashwell Prince fittingly scoring the winning runs for South Africa. What a turnaround it was! From being 0-1 down, the hosts came back to win 2-1 in 3 matches, and India deservingly lost another opportunity to stamp their authority in a series abroad and outside the Indian subcontinent.
Shaun Pollock was the man of the series for his consistent performances, while the biggest plus for India was not just winning an away Test but also the emergence of Sreesanth and the return of Ganguly, who would go on to play Test cricket for another two years before calling it a day.