Test cricket is the purest form of cricket and remains the ultimate test of a cricketer’s abilities. No cricketer can be called really great unless he has performed consistently well in Test cricket. Quite understandably, a bilateral Test series between two nations provide the greatest entertainment for a genuine cricket lover.
However, not all Test series can fulfil the expectations of cricket lovers. Some are dull and drab affairs, while some are extremely one-sided and offer no excitement for the viewers.
There are only some Test series which provide great excitement to the spectators and are remembered by them for a long time. Let us take a look at 5 of the greatest Test series held in the last 40 years in this article:
#5. South Africa 1-2 Australia (2001-02):
The series was touted as the unofficial Test championship and featured the two best teams in the world at that point in time. The Aussies went there with a superb team led by Steve Waugh. They had legendary players like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh in their side.
The South Africans were no pushovers as well, as they had cricketers like Allan Donald, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini in their ranks. Boucher was the captain of the side in absence of Shaun Pollock and hoped to beat the mighty Aussies with his formidable team.
Adam Gilchrist set the tone of the series with a brilliant double hundred in the first innings of the first Test at Durban. He put the strong South African bowling attack to the sword and helped Australia put up a total in excess of 600. South Africa suffered an innings defeat as McGrath and Warne took 8 and 6 wickets respectively.
Australia won the second Test again as Warne destroyed the South African batting line-up on yet another occasion with 8 wickets in the match. Ricky Ponting made an unbeaten century in the second innings to win the match For Australia.
South Africa won the third match by 5 wickets and salvaged some pride in the end. Herschelle Gibbs made a match-winning century in the fourth innings of the match. For Australia, Ponting and Gilchrist were again among runs and Warne among wickets.
Overall, that series involved a gripping battle between two very strong and exciting teams and Australia confirmed their status as the world's best team.
#4. West Indies 1-1 Pakistan (1987-88):
West Indies were a fearsome proposition in the 1970s and 1980s. Their decline started in the late 1980s as most of their stalwarts like Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes approached the end of their respective careers. Still, they had a very strong team in 1988 when a Pakistan team led by Imran Khan visited them.
It was a very big challenge for Imran and his boys as they attempted to tame the lion in its den. Both the teams had very strong bowling attacks. Pakistan had Imran, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir, whereas West Indies had Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Winston Benjamin.
The visitors began very well by thrashing the West Indies by 9 wickets in the first Test. Imran destroyed West Indies with his lethal fast bowling and took 11 wickets in the match. Javed Miandad scored a wonderful hundred to help Pakistan register a resounding win.
The second Test also provided great excitement and had the spectators on the edge of their seat till the very last delivery of the match. Viv Richards bowled the last over to Abdul Qadir, who managed to see off the six deliveries and ensure that the match ended in a draw. Imran was superb for Pakistan in that series and took 9 wickets in the match. For West Indies, Richards made a superb ton and Marshall took 6 wickets.
West Indies came back strongly to win the third and final Test by a very close margin. Richards and Richie Richardson scored some valuable runs for them and Wasim Akram took 7 wickets in the match.
Richards’ knock in the fourth innings ensured a 2-wicket victory for the home side. The Pakistanis could not win the series in the end, but came back with their heads held high.
#3. West Indies 1-2 Australia (1994-95):
West Indies had not lost a Test series in 15 years before the 1994-95 home series against Australia and Mark Taylor’s men went there to achieve the seemingly impossible feat. Taylor had inherited a very strong side from his predecessor Allan Border and had great players like Warne, McGrath, the Waugh brothers and Ian Healy in his side.
The West Indies were going through a rebuilding phase under skipper Richie Richardson and had players like Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose in their side. What followed was a superb and memorable battle between two very strong sides.
Australia won the first Test of the series as the West Indian batting collapsed in front of some inspiring pace bowling by McGrath and Brendon Julian. McGrath took 8 wickets to win the match for Australia. The second Test then ended in a tame draw.
West Indies came back strongly in the third Test to win it inside three days. Ambrose and Walsh destroyed Australia with their devastating bowling spells and West Indies won the Test by 9 wickets.
The fourth Test remains one of the most memorable ones in the history of Australian cricket as the Waugh brothers had a great partnership between them in it. Steve Waugh defied the constant barrage of bouncers by Ambrose and Walsh to make a valiant double hundred, while Mark Waugh also scored a century.
Australia posted 531 in the only innings they batted and handed West Indies an innings defeat as Warne and Paul Reiffel ran through their batting order in their second innings. Australia also took over from the Windies as the strongest team in the world during that series.
#2. India 2-1 Australia (2000-01):
This was the series that caused a turnaround in Indian cricket and remains a milestone in its history. The mighty Australian led by Steve Waugh had won 15 consecutive Test matches before coming to India and had no problem in registering their 16th straight victory following a wonderful century by Adam Gilchrist in Mumbai. Gilchrist destroyed the Indian bowling attack and Indian batting crumbled against the bowling of Warne and McGrath. Australia won the match by 9 wickets.
They looked all set for a 17th successive win when they ensured a big first innings lead in the second Test at Kolkata. However, Waugh decided to enforce the follow-on instead of giving his bowlers some rest in the hot and humid conditions and it allowed Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to form a 300 plus partnership in the second innings.
Laxman made 281 and Dravid scored 180 to set Australia an impossible target over 400 in the fourth innings. Harbhajan Singh, who had taken a hattrick in the first innings, again rattled the Australian batting and gave India a memorable win in one of the most dramatic Test matches of all time.
India again won a cliffhanger in Chennai by 2 wickets as Sachin Tendulkar made a memorable century. Matthew Hayden also scored a double hundred for Australia and Harbhajan again got a lot of wickets. India managed to score the 150 odd runs required in the fourth innings to register an epic series win over the great Australian side.
#1. England 2-1 Australia (2005):
The Ashes series of 2005 in England could very well have been a one-sided one had the great McGrath not trod on a cricket ball in a training session a few hours before the start of the second Test match. McGrath had demolished the English batting line-up by taking 9 wickets in the first Test at Lord’s as Australia won convincingly by 239 runs.
The Australian bowlers were put to the sword by Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen as England scored more than 400 runs on the very first day of the second Test at Edgbaston. Australia scored a little over 300 but dismissed England cheaply to be given a target of 294.
In their pursuit of a daunting fourth innings target, the Aussie finished 2 runs short as Michael Kasprowicz was caught behind in a weird fashion. The English wicketkeeper Geraint Jones celebrated almost like a mad man and the Australians were inconsolable.
The third Test at Old Trafford was yet another classic and featured a wonderful century by Australian skipper Ricky Ponting. Ponting made 156 in extremely difficult conditions to ensure a draw for his side. Flintoff and Jones bowled very well for the English.
England then went on to win the 4th Test by 3 wickets as Flintoff scored a century and Jones was again among wickets. Warne got a bagful of wickets in both the 3rd and 4th Test, but Australia could not win either of them.
The fifth Test at the Oval ended in a draw as McGrath made a comeback and young Kevin Pietersen made a brilliant hundred on the very last day of the match. Warne dropped him while fielding in the slips and allowed him to save the match for England. Flintoff was again among runs and Jones among wickets for England. Hayden scored a century in the first innings of Australia.
That series was memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it featured two fine cricketers Warne and Flintoff at their respective best. Warne took 40 wickets in the series, whereas Flintoff made 402 runs and took 24 wickets in one of the finest all-round displays ever in a Test series.
Secondly, the spectators were treated with some very fine demonstration of reverse swing by Simon Jones. Jones bowled brilliantly with the old ball and was one of the primary reasons behind England’s win. Finally, it also signalled the end of the road for Australian pacer Jason Gillespie, who went for a lot of runs and looked a shadow of his former self in that series.