The Joy of Six: 10th-wicket partnerships in Test cricket | Nick Miller

Nick Miller
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">England cricket bowlers John Snow, left, and Ken Higgs enjoy a cup of tea after their record-breaking 128-run last wicket stand against West Indies in the fifth and final test at The Oval in August 1966.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images</span>
England cricket bowlers John Snow, left, and Ken Higgs enjoy a cup of tea after their record-breaking 128-run last wicket stand against West Indies in the fifth and final test at The Oval in August 1966. Photograph: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1) Ken Higgs and John Snow (128 runs, England v West Indies, 1966)

The typical image of the last-wicket partnership is a batsman shepherding a tail-ender and compiling most of the runs themselves. But the real fun comes when it’s a couple of bowlers, ramping up frustration for the fielding side further and enhancing the entertainment for us. Of the 26 10th-wicket century partnerships in men’s Test history, only three have involved numbers 10 and 11.

The biggest was in 1966, as John Snow and Ken Higgs put on 128 for England against West Indies at the Oval. The tourists were probably already quite irked when the pair came together, as they’d reduced England to 166-7, only for Tom Graveney and John Murray to put on 217 for the eighth. Those two were eventually dispatched, only for Higgs and Snow to score 63 and 59 not out, respectively. Snow did quite well out of the whole thing: his father, a vicar, had promised the bowler 10 shillings for every run he scored, and a bookmaker friend promised Snow Snr £1 for every run above 25. All told, John pocketed £29 and the bookie’s £34 cheque went towards church funds.

2) Craig McDermott and Tim May (40, Australia v West Indies, 1993)

The relieved look on Ian Bishop’s face when debutant Justin Langer under-edged a pull through to Junior Murray suggested West Indies thought this one was finally in the bag. Chasing 186 at Adelaide, Australia looked dead at 74-7, but the 22-year-old Langer scrapped for over four hours and guided first Shane Warne, and then Tim May to within 41. His dismissal left just May and Craig McDermott (Test average: 11.96) to face Bishop, Walsh and Ambrose.

But face them they did. May had already turned an undulating Test in Australia’s favour with a spell of five for nine in six overs and, with one wicket required for a West Indies win, he and McDermott inched towardsvictory. “We thought we were going to get there,” McDermott told The Age. “Maysie and I were just crawling, run by run, ball by ball.”

With three runs required May tucked one off his midriff for a single, but they didn’t risk a second run. Then Walsh got a ball to lift a little on McDermott, umpire Darrell Hair raised his finger and West Indies had won by one run, the narrowest margin of victory in Tests. “To this day, I really don’t think I hit it,” said McDermott. “It still haunts me to this day,” added captain Allan Border. “If he had his middle pole knocked out, that’s one thing, but to go so close and then to not even be sure if he was out was just agonising.”

3) Jimmy Anderson and Joe Root (198, England v India, 2014)

Watching a No 11 score a load of runs must be a dispiriting enough at the best of times. But when it’s a No 11 whose previous best was 49 in the Lancashire Leagues and he starts playing reverse sweeps, upper-cuts and flourishing lofts over mid-on, your spirit will be ground to dust in no time.

England were 298-9 at Trent Bridge, 159 behind India when Jimmy Anderson came to the crease. MS Dhoni’s mind was presumably on how big their lead would be, not if they would have one. But then Anderson and Joe Root set about scoring the Test record 10th-wicket stand of 198, sweeping aside the previous mark of 163 set by Australia a year earlier. Anderson finished on 81, and Root’s 154 was almost relegated to an afterthought. “That was a match-winning 49 not out so we’ll wait and see if this trumps it,” said Anderson about his old top score. The match ended in a draw, so presumably Anderson still values his knock against Todmorden more highly.

<span class="element-image__caption">Joe Root, right, and James Anderson pick up some runs during their last-wicket century partnership at Trent Bridge.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images</span>
Joe Root, right, and James Anderson pick up some runs during their last-wicket century partnership at Trent Bridge. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

4) Clea Smith and Shelley Nitschke (119, Australia v England, 2005)

There have been 139 women’s Tests, and only one last-wicket stand above 100. That came in one of two Tests in the 2005 Ashes series. It’s an entirely inadequate number of matches to decide anything, but there’s the wonder of cricket: even the briefest series can contain drama.

England had Australia not so much on the ropes but halfway into the first row of spectators at 115-7 on day one of the first Test at Hove. But from that point the tourists almost trebled their score, the bulk of those runs coming for the last wicket from Shelley Nitschke and Clea Smith. The pair put on 119, frustrating England’s bowlers for nearly two hours as they kept chipping away, Nitschke ending on 81 not out and Smith finally removed for 42. As an added flourish, Nitschke then dismissed Charlotte Edwards and Jenny Gunn , but Australia ultimately couldn’t force a win, the match drawn.

5) Malcolm Marshall and Larry Gomes (12, West Indies v England, 1984)

Malcolm Marshall probably wasn’t trying to take the piss when he batted at Headingley one-handed. He had, after all, broken his left thumb and it was more a practical necessity. Nevertheless, the sight of Marshall striding out at the end of West Indies’ first innings, when they were 2-0 up on the way to making it 5-0 … well, it was quite the metaphorical kick in the pods for David Gower’s boys.

The lowest point was probably when Marshall, using only that right hand, carved Paul Allott to third man for four. The partnership only ended up being 12, but a West Indies batsman using exactly half as many hands as he’s allowed probably summed up England’s series. It didn’t help that Marshall then ran through them with seven wickets in the second innings.

6) Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns (118, New Zealand v England, 2002)

What would you or I do if our team needed 217 to win with only one wicket left? We’d probably swing from our toes, try to leather everything and have a bit of fun before the inevitable. We might last a few boundaries, maybe 15 minutes, before a heave at thin air and stumps all over the shop.

Not Nathan Astle. He was ahead of the game, as he’d started his assault well before New Zealand’s No 10 Ian Butler was sent packing. Astle had 134 from 128 balls when Chris Cairns, batting at 11 because of injury, came out for the last rites. Those rites lasted a little longer, though. Astle took a particular liking to Andrew Caddick (who took six wickets in the innings), hoying him for 4, 6, 6, 4 in one over, 6, 6, 6, 4 in another.

<span class="element-image__caption">Nathan Astle taking it to England during his record-breaking double century in Christchurch.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images</span>
Nathan Astle taking it to England during his record-breaking double century in Christchurch. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Cairns did his best to chip in, but Astle belted 88 of their 118-run partnership and, as their target ticked towards double figures, the faint possibility of New Zealand pulling off an absurd win grew a little brighter. Alas, Astle finally edged a wide half-volley and was out for 222 off 168 balls, still the quickest double century in Test history. The fourth 50 of his total was scored in 17 balls. “Everything seemed to be in slow motion for some reason,” he said this year. It says everything for this innings that England were 0-2 in the first over of the match, Graham Thorpe scored his own 200 and New Zealand actually lost.

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