Close but no cigar: Agonising last stands

Australia

Here are a few memorable last stands by bottom order batsmen that just-just failed to save the day, either by falling a few runs short of a win, or by being dismissed in the final moments.

Test match cricket is something that people from countries without the game do not understand. Who can fathom sitting for five days, watching men prod at a ball for hours on end, for little reward? How can watching someone block a ball on the last day be exciting?

As we saw at Lord's this month, where Sri Lanka's Nuwan Pradeep saved a draw in the final over of the match, a tail ender can indeed be a hero. But on the other end of the joy spectrum, we had James Anderson in Leeds. His heartbreak was palpable.

Here are a few memorable last stands by bottom order batsmen that just-just failed to save the day, either by falling a few runs short of a win, or by being dismissed in the final moments.

<b>James Anderson vs Sri Lanka, Leeds, 2014</b><br>The inspiration for this piece was Jimmy's 55-ball duck at Headingley. He batted for more than 20 agonising overs for that zero, with Moeen Ali's all-day century at the other end. The final over saw Shaminda Eranga bowl short ball after short ball at number 11 Anderson, who stood back and defended each and every one to huge cheers. It was a bubbling cauldron in Yorkshire, and an impossible save was on the cards. But the fifth ball of that over rose higher and faster than Jimmy expected, and it looped off the splice to Rangana Herath at gully. Sri Lanka won by 100 runs but with one ball to spare, and Jimmy went down on his haunches in tears.

<b>Graeme Smith vs Australia, Sydney, 2009</b><br>One of the most memorable last-ditch attempts to save a game was by now-retired South Africa skipper Graeme Smith at the SCG. He had broken his hand earlier in the game and was not expected to bat in the second innings. But when a certain defeat looked like it could be avoided, thanks to Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn's tail end resistance, Biff surprisingly came out at number 11 to massive applause. He couldn't hold the bat with two hands as one was in plaster. He lasted for nearly half an hour, for three runs, and in the end he was bowled by Mitchell Johnson with 10 balls to go in the match. The Aussies won the game by 103 runs, but the Proteas took the series.

<b>Brad Haddin vs England, Nottingham, 2013</b><br>England won this Test at Trent Bridge, after massive Stuart Broad non-walk controversy, by just 14 runs. The Aussies needed 311 runs to win, and after their top order got off to good starts, it didn't seem impossible. Then, James Anderson ripped through the middle order, and suddenly it seemed over before lunch on day five. But Brad Haddin, who was on 11 overnight, had other ideas, and batted for more than four hours for his 71. He took the game past lunch on day five, and batted for 16 overs and 65 runs with number 11 James Pattinson. Broad added to his notoriety by fiddling with his shoes before lunch to end the session, and it worked. After the interval, Haddin was out to Anderson, caught behind, and the Aussies fell agonisingly short.

<b>Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz v England, Birmingham, 2005</b><br>In one of the most thrilling ends to a cricket match in living memory, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz, batting at 10 and 11, took the Aussies within two runs of victory at Edgbaston. They needed 282 runs to win but were on 175 for eight when Michael Clarke departed. Shane Warne and Brett Lee then put on 45 together to push the score to 220, before he hit his wicket while facing Andrew Flintoff. Lee and Kasprowicz then built the tension to rubber band point, resisting and compiling runs for the next 12 overs. England were getting desperate and turned to Steve Harmison for one more push, and he got Kasprowicz's edge to Geraint Jones. England won by two runs, and Lee was stuck on 43 off 75 balls. The enduring image is of Flintoff consoling him.

<b>Craig McDermott vs West Indies, Adelaide, 1993</b><br>The fourth Test of this series saw the Windies record the closest victory in terms of runs in Test history: A single. The Aussies needed 186 runs to win the match, but Curtley Ambrose demolished the middle order and Courtney Walsh sorted out the tail. Justin Langer batted for most of the knock, but in the end Tim May and Craig McDermott, batting at 10 and 11, nearly saved the day. They put on 40 runs together and took the score to 184… and then Walsh got rid of McDermott, caught behind for 18 off 57 balls. May was stranded at the other end on 42 off 99 balls.

<b>Dayle Hadlee vs England, Nottingham, 1973</b><br>New Zealand were not expected to even get close to the 479 runs required at Trent Bridge, having been all out for 97 in their first innings. In fact, they lost both openers cheaply early, and England looked set for an easy and expected win. Then Bev Congdon, starting his knock on day three, and Vic Pollard dug in and scored centuries, taking the game into day five. They put on 177 together and by the time Pollard was out, the score had passed 400. Then the lesser-known Hadlee, at number nine, dug in for 62 balls for his 14, while Richard Hadlee scored four runs in his 29 deliveries. The day was drawing closer to a shock win or draw for the Kiwis, but when Dayle fell with the score on 440, it was over, 38 runs short.

<b>Arthur Gilligan and Tich Freeman vs Australia, Adelaide, 1925</b><br>Back in the day, before Test matches had a five-day limit, a game could go on for 'timeless' spans. This match lasted for seven days, the last of which saw Australia come within 11 runs of the 375 required at the Adelaide Oval. England's second innings began early on day five, with Herbert Sutcliffe and Dodger Whysall putting on half centuries. By the end of day six, England were still going, with tail enders Gilligan and Freeman resisting manfully while pushing the score closer and closer. Number nine Gilligan batted for 116 balls for his 31, while number 10 Freeman scored 24 off 64 balls. He was the last man out, with the score on an agonising 363, late on day seven.

Honourable mention:

<b>Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander vs India, Johannesburg, 2013</b><br>This match may have ended in a draw, after the Proteas looked almost certain to lose, but the players' and fans reactions were those of the defeated. The Proteas came within eight runs of a record-breaking fourth innings chase, needing 458 to win but settling for 450 and an astonishing draw. Vernon Philander batted for almost an hour at number 10, while Faf du Plessis' century nearly achieved victory. But he was out right at the end, leaving Dale Steyn as the final man in, and he could not risk defeat. They blocked out for the draw, and Steyn's furious face said it all.

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>

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