Great cricketers don’t always enjoy fairytale career endings.
Some announce their retirement prior to a match or season, and go out in a blaze of glory. Others do so post-match, occasionally unexpectedly. And then there are those who are simply dropped and never return to the side, or whose careers are ended by injury or war.
This article names a Test team comprising 11 players who went out with a bang, after playing a combined 758 matches. In their last match, this side’s top six collectively scored more than 1000 runs including two double-centuries and two centuries, while its bowlers took 39 wickets including a hat trick, and its fielders 20 catches. When combined, that’s enough to win a match twice over.
Ten of the 11 were part of winning sides, while the remaining one participated in a hard-fought draw. Eight retired after the match or later that same year, while the other three continued with success at domestic level.
Part 2 will name a side of equally distinguished cricketers whose last matches were, in contrast, mostly forgettable anti-climaxes.
29 Tests, 1924-1934, 2122 runs at 48.22, 21 catches
Ponsford was one of Australia’s finest opening batsmen and a superb outfielder, who also represented Victoria and Australia in baseball. In 1998, Don Bradman named him in a team of the best Australian players that he had ever seen. In 2000, the Australian Cricket Board named him in its Team of the Century. In Ponsford’s penultimate Test, he scored 181 and shared a 388-run partnership with Bradman.
At the Oval in his final match, Ponsford top-scored with 266 in a team total of 701 and also took two catches. He shared a 451-run partnership in 316 minutes with Bradman that enabled his team to end the match’s first day at 2-475. It was his highest Test innings, and he had previously made a century on debut. Australia had surrendered the Ashes in the Bodyline series, and required victory in this timeless Test to regain them. They duly won the match by 562 runs, and the series 2-1.
He then completed the tour with a handful of matches against county clubs, as was the practice at the time. At the commencement of the 1934-35 season, he participated in a testimonial match and then retired from first-class cricket aged only 34, while continuing to play club cricket for a further five years. Remarkably, he was red-green colour blind.
66 Tests, 1964-1976, 4737 runs at 43.45, 83 catches
Redpath was a gritty Victorian opening batsman who scored 97 on debut. He played a key role in Australia’s successes during the mid-1970s as vice-captain, and was also an outstanding catcher. He did not hit a single six until his penultimate match, and then hit a second one for good measure. Also belying his dour reputation, in a tour match during the 1969-70 tour to South Africa he scored 32 runs from a six-ball over.
He was player of the match in his final Test after scoring 101 and 70 and taking two catches. The game took place against the West Indies at his home ground the MCG, and Australia won it by 165 runs to retain the Frank Worrell Trophy by a 5-1 margin. His series figures were 575 runs at 52.27 including three centuries. He then retired at the age of 34 to resume a career in antique dealing, before returning a year later to play two seasons of World Series Cricket.
71 Tests, 1996-2006, 1218 runs at 18.73, 259 wickets at 26.13, 27 catches
Tearaway fast bowler Gillespie is Australia’s eighth highest wicket taker. Statistically he and Glenn McGrath are Australia’s leading new-ball combination. In this team he will bat at number three in recognition of his performance in his last Test match, and less surprisingly will also open the bowling.
In Chattogram in his final Test he took 3-11 and 0-14 and two catches, but most significantly scored 201 not out. Australia won the match by an innings and 80 runs, and the series 2-0, while he gained player of the match and player of the series awards. On the match’s fourth day, when he reached his double-century, he also celebrated his 31st birthday.
He had begun the game by dismissing Bangladesh’s first three batsmen to reduce them to 3-17 in their eighth over. He then filled the role of nightwatchman following Matthew Hayden’s dismissal six overs before stumps on the first day’s play.
His marathon innings lasted 425 balls and 574 minutes, and included 26 fours and two sixes. He shared successive partnerships of 53 with Phil Jaques, 90 with Ricky Ponting, and 320 with Mike Hussey for the fourth wicket. He is the only nightwatchman to have scored a double-century. While never selected for Australia again, he played until 2008 for South Australia and Glamorgan.
87 Tests, 1970-1984, 7110 runs at 53.86, 47 wickets at 40.70, 122 catches
Greg Chappell was one of Australia’s finest top-order batsmen. In 2000, the ACB named him in its Team of the Century. In 2009, Cricinfo named him in its all-time Australian team. In his first Test as captain, he scored a pair of centuries. But for World Series Cricket in which his performances were exceptional, he would have an even more outstanding career record.
He was player of the match in his final Test, against Pakistan at the SCG. His personal figures were 182 from 400 deliveries, 0-25 with the ball and three catches. During this innings he shared successive partnerships of 171 with captain Kim Hughes and 153 with Allan Border. Australia won the match by ten wickets, and the series 2-0. Like Ponsford, he also had scored a century on debut.
Chappell retired from international cricket after this match, alongside two other champions who also feature in this side. The absence of all three heralded a decline in Australia’s competitiveness that lasted a number of years. He then completed the Sheffield Shield season with Queensland, including playing in that competition’s final, which they lost to Western Australia.
75 Tests, 1964-1980, 5345 runs at 42.42, 20 wickets at 65.80, 105 catches
Ian Chappell was one of Australia’s finest captains and a very capable top-order batsman, slips fieldsman and leg-spin bowler. His international career seemingly ended in 1975-76, but resumed after a three-year hiatus, which included two seasons of World Series Cricket.
He played his final Test against England at the MCG, during a three-match series in which the Ashes were not at stake. Australia won the match by eight wickets and the series 3-0. His own performance was 75 and 26 not out, as well as one catch. The game ended with an unbroken 61-run partnership between he and his brother and captain Greg.
Chappell then completed the Sheffield Shield season with South Australia as captain, scoring centuries against New South Wales and Victoria, and being named player of the competition.
168 Tests, 1985-2004, 10,927 runs at 51.06, 92 wickets at 37.44, 112 catches
Waugh was one of Australia’s finest batsmen and most successful captains, and a useful fieldsman and medium-pace bowler. After being dropped from Australia’s limited-overs team in 2002, he failed to win back his place during 2002-03 or for the 2003 World Cup. He declared in advance that 2003-04 would be his final season of cricket, and effectively turned it into a national farewell tour.
His last match was against India, at his home ground the SCG. The match was drawn after India had batted first and amassed 7(dec)-705, and the series was drawn 1-1. Waugh scored 40 and a rear-guard 80, as well as bowling two wicketless overs. He and Simon Katich denied the tourists victory with a last-day partnership of 142 runs in 34 overs for the fifth wicket. The match attracted record crowds of 189,989 in total, and 27,056 on the final day. Many spectators wore or waved red handkerchiefs, in acknowledgement of Waugh’s trademark piece of clothing.
Waugh then completed the season with New South Wales before retiring. His last appearances attracted unusually large crowds to home matches at Drummoyne Oval, Stadium Australia and the Sydney Cricket Ground. In 2004, he was also named Australian of the Year.
96 Tests, 1970-1984, 3633 runs at 26.51, 343 catches, 12 stumpings
The left-handed Marsh was one of Australia’s finest wicketkeeper-batsmen, and a key member of a dominant team during the 1970s and early ‘80s. The dismissal “caught Marsh bowled Lillee” appeared 95 times in opposing sides’ scorecards, and his forceful lower-order batting included three centuries.
He played his final match against Pakistan at the SCG, retiring simultaneously with Greg Chappell and Lillee. Australia won the match by ten wickets, and the series 2-0. Marsh scored 15 not out in his only innings, and took one catch in Pakistan’s first innings and five in their second. Two of those catches were made from Lillee’s bowling.
Marsh completed the season with Western Australia, before retiring. The side lost the McDonalds Cup final despite Marsh scoring 54 from 39 deliveries. They then won the second-ever Sheffield Shield final against Greg Chappell’s Queensland with Marsh taking five catches and scoring seven and a crucial 45 against an attack including Jeff Thomson, Trevor Hohns and a young Craig McDermott.
32 Tests, 1890-1904, 851 runs at 19.79, 141 wickets at 21.78, 45 catches
Trumble was Australia’s first great off-spin bowler, and an outstanding catcher. He took ten wickets in a match on three occasions, and a hat trick twice. He was also a useful batsman who scored four half-centuries and opened the innings on three occasions. He captained Australia on two occasions, winning both matches. Having initially retired following Australia’s tours to England and South Africa in 1902, he was coaxed back midway through England’s 1903-04 tour to Australia.
He played his last Test match against England at his home ground the MCG. Australia won the game by 218 runs, although it was a consolation victory in a 3-2 series loss. The match was a low-scoring one on a difficult pitch, with the legendary Victor Trumper’s first-innings 88 from 125 deliveries the only individual score in excess of 36.
Trumble scored six and zero with the bat, and did not bowl in England’s first innings of 61. However after Australia set the tourists 320 for victory, Trumble proved unplayable with the ball. He took England’s last seven wickets, with one batsman absent hurt. His final figures were 7-28 from 6.5 overs including one catch from his own bowling, and the second of his hat tricks.
70 Tests, 1971-1984, 905 runs at 13.71, 355 wickets at 23.92, 23 catches
Lillee is Australia’s finest fast bowler. In 2009, Cricinfo named him in its all-time World XI. When Wisden named its five Cricketers of the Twentieth Century in 2000, it ranked Lillee in equal sixth place with no other fast bowler ranked higher. Also in 2000, the ACB included him in its Team of the Century. And in 1999, Bradman named him in a team of the greatest players that he had seen.
Like Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, his final international match was against Pakistan at the SCG. Australia won the match by ten wickets and the series 2-0. His own bowling figures were 4-65 and 4-88, including a wicket with his last delivery in Test cricket. He also caught Javed Miandad and Saleem Malik in Pakistan’s first innings, with the former dismissal no doubt giving him much pleasure. He was not required to bat.
Rather than retire from all first-class cricket, he then captained Western Australia to victory in the Sheffield Shield final. He subsequently represented Tasmania in 1987-88, and Northamptonshire in 1988. He also played for the ACB Chairman’s XI against Pakistan in 1999-00 alongside son Adam, and each of them took three wickets.
27 Tests, 1932-1946, 410 runs at 12.81, 144 wickets at 22.59, seven catches
O’Reilly was one of Australia’s finest spin bowlers. In 2009, he gained selection in Cricinfo’s all-time Australian XI and also its World Second XI. In 2000, the ACB named him in its Team of the Century. In 1999, Bradman named him in a World XI of all players that he had seen. Bradman also described O’Reilly as the greatest bowler that he had ever faced or watched. In 1963 he was on Neville Cardus’ 19-player shortlist for six Players of the Century.
He played his final match aged 40 in Wellington, seven years after his penultimate one. It was the first post-WWII Test, and also the first between Australia and New Zealand. He served as vice-captain to Bill Brown in a team that included seven debutants.
The visitors won the match in two days by an innings and 103 runs. On a rain-affected pitch, O’Reilly took 5-14 and 3-19 as Australia dismissed the home team for 42 and 54. He then retired with immediate effect, reportedly after first throwing his playing boots out of the dressing-room window.
37 Tests, 1925-1936, 557 runs at 13.92, 216 wickets at 24.21, 17 catches
Leg spinner Grimmett was O’Reilly’s partner in crime, and they enjoyed immense success together. Following a first-class debut at age 17 in his native New Zealand, he then played in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide before finally representing Australia aged 33. In 1999, Bradman named him in a World XI of the best players that he had ever seen. He is credited with inventing the flipper.
He played his last Test in Durban at 44 years of age. Australia won the match by an innings and six runs, and the series 4-0. Grimmett took 7-100 and 6-73 from 93 overs, for an overall series haul of 44 wickets at 14.59. He took seven of the first eight wickets to fall in South Africa’s first innings, and six of the first eight in their second innings. In addition, he scored 14 runs batting at number nine and took one catch from his own bowling.
However, Grimmett did not choose to retire from the game. The Australian selectors simply kept picking lesser bowlers for the Ashes series of 1936-37 and 1938, despite Grimmett’s success against South Africa which then continued at Sheffield Shield level. In fact in 1939-40, by which time he was aged 48, he took 73 first-class wickets.
In Grimmett’s obituary in Wisden, Bill O’Reilly wrote that “Bradman it seemed had lost faith in the best spin bowler the world has seen. Grum’s departure was a punishing blow to me and to my plans of attack. His diagnostic type of probing spin buttressed my own methods to such a degree that my reaction to his dismissal was one of infinite loss and loneliness”.
Reg Duff, Phil Jaques and Martin Love each scored a century in their final Test match. Bruce Reid (5-112 and 2-39), Charlie Turner (3-18 and 4-33), Herbert Hordern (5-95 and 5-66), Arthur Mailey (6-138 and 3-128) and Jack Saunders (3-114 and 5-82) also enjoyed personally successful last games.
The West Indies’ Seymour Nurse (258) and England’s Andy Sandham (325 and 50), Charles “Jack” Russell (140 and 111), Sydney Barnes (7-56 and 7-88) and Jack Ferris (7-37 and 6-54) were others to go out with a bang, rather than a whimper.