Two-match Test series are a bitter-sweet delight of the game of cricket.
They capture the best format but remain too short for a series. In light of the ongoing England versus New Zealand series, and general celebration of the return of Test cricket, I thought I would recount some of the greatest two-match Test series. Note the series mentioned will be of relatively recent memory.
I am starting with a few honourable mentions. Australia’s tour of Bangladesh in 2017 was highlighted by the Tigers’ first win against Australia, in the first Test match. Shakib al Hasan’s brilliance with both bat and ball foiled Australia, as they lost by 20 runs. Australia crumbled from 3-158 to 244 all out, after a David Warner hundred.
In the second match Australia completed a routine victory, with another century from Warner. Nathan Lyon picked up an incredible 22 wickets in the series, the most for an Aussie in a two-game series.
Speaking of England and New Zealand, they have had a few memorable two-match series in recent times. In 2015, Ben Stokes showed brilliance at Lord’s with 92 (94) and 101 (92) as England completed a crushing 124-run win. What makes this more remarkable was that New Zealand posted 523 in their first innings.
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In the second game New Zealand got their revenge with a 199-run victory. In a rain-affected match, New Zealand played with an aggressive mindset, scoring 350 in 72 overs and 8-454 in 91 overs in the respective innings, setting up their victory nicely.
The 2018 series in New Zealand was also quite interesting. In the first match New Zealand completed an absolute thumping, bowling England out for 58 on the first day and proceeding to score 400-plus.
In the second game England came back strongly, and a loss was beckoning for New Zealand. However incredible innings of 56* (168) from Ish Sodhi and seven (103) from Neil Wagner earned a draw and series win for the Kiwis.
This year’s series will be the fourth two-match Test series between England and New Zealand since 2015, and considering the quality of the sides, it is about time the series should be made longer.
5. South Africa versus India 2013
The 2013 tour of South Africa was India’s first major overseas tour without the old rear guard of Sachin Tendulkar and company, and represented a fierce challenge for the new generation of players, such as Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.
Heading into the final day of the first Test, India appeared to have risen to the challenge, with Kohli scoring 115 and 96 and Cheteshwar Pujara scoring a second-innings 153 to set South Africa a steep chase of 458.
However South Africa are never ones to bow down, with centuries from AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis giving hope for victory. What resulted was one of the closest draws in Test history.
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With de Villiers and du Plessis at the crease, SA needed 66 runs in 15 overs, yet it ended with Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander blocking it out, with SA finishing 7-450. When du Plessis got out, SA needed 16 off 19 balls but the bowlers didn’t take the risk, resulting in boos from the crowd.
The second Test match was much more routine for the hosts. Jacques Kallis, in his final Test match, scored a gritty hundred to take SA to 500. India’s second innings crumbled, despite Rahane’s patient 96, with the star-studded SA side completing a ten-wicket win.
4. Bangladesh versus England 2016
England toured Bangladesh in 2016, resulting in a memorable affair. The first Test was very topsy turvy, with four scores between 240 and 300.
Bangladesh were tracking decently, in what was a very tricky chase of 286. However, when captain Mushfiqur Rahman fell after a brave 39 (124), a collapse was triggered, losing 5-36. Bangladesh fell an agonising 22 runs short. Sabbir Rahman remained unbeaten on 64.
A few niche records were broken in this match, including Alastair Cook becoming England’s most capped player, Bangladesh’s narrowest defeat and Gareth Batty became the player with the most Tests missed between appearances (142, 2005 to 2016).
In the second Test the situation was flipped, with England set a difficult 273. They got off to a brilliant start, with openers Cook and Ben Duckett producing a hundred-run partnership. However what followed was mania for England, as they lost all ten wickets to spin in one session, crumbling to 164.
This was a very historic win, being Bangladesh’s first Test victory that wasn’t against Zimbabwe or a weakened West Indies side.
3. New Zealand versus India 2014
The young India’s next assignment following South Africa was New Zealand in early 2014. At the time, New Zealand were ranked number eight in the world, really showing how far the current team has come.
This Test series certainly had its fair share of twists. In the first Test, led by a Brendon McCullum double century, New Zealand had a strangle of India with an imposing 301-run lead. Yet, this did not faze India.
Brilliance from the bowling of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, as well as from Ravindra Jadeja’s fielding, helped bowl New Zealand out for 105. India were chasing 407 and had victory on their minds, something completely unthinkable just hours before. Shikhar Dhawan brought up a century and was being well supported by Kohli.
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However they both fell, and the lower middle order could not convert their starts to meaningful scores. In the end India were all out for 366, falling 40 runs short. It was a great effort but a painful loss, up there with Adelaide in 2014. It was New Zealand’s first victory against India in 12 years.
In the second Test, India were the ones with a stronghold. India bowled NZ out on Day 1 and responded with a 400-plus score. BJ Watling came to the crease to support McCullum at 5-94 with NZ still 152 runs behind. Yet no one would’ve expected what followed.
McCullum, of course, scored a triple century, supported by centuries from Watling and debutant Jimmy Neesham. NZ declared at 680, having successfully killed India’s hopes. Kohli scored a century in India’s short reply and the captains shook hands.
One thing that strikes me about these two teams is that over seven years later, many of the stars then are still the core of their teams today, playing in the exact same fashion. India’s batting had Pujara, Rahane, Kohli and Rohit Sharma as well as bowlers Ishant, Shami and Jadeja.
New Zealand still have the pace brigade of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner and the duo of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. However it was McCullum who was the difference in the series.
2. South Africa versus Sri Lanka 2019
Sri Lanka were heading into this series with yet another captaincy change and the world was was anticipating another series loss. South Africa had defeated India and Australia in their previous summer, and were savouring the last moments of the likes of Hashim Amla and Steyn.
It was a cagey start with the first innings leaving the teams more even than fans would have expected. SA took control in their second innings, setting a tough target of 305. They also lost their last five wickets for eight runs, which ended up being crucial.
SL were hindered by constant setbacks and after the fall of the resistant Dhananjaya de Silva and a crumbling tail, it seemed SA would wrap things up. Regardless, at the other end, Kusal Perera played one the best ever Test innings – even better than Ben Stokes in my opinion.
He put on 78 with the number 11, the highest ever tenth-wicket partnership in a successful chase. An unbeaten 153 brought up an amazing and unheard-of victory for the Lankans.
The second Test was appearing a bowler’s affair with SL knocked over for 154, still trailing by 68. South Africa were then rattled again, knocked over for 128. There was hope for SL but conditions were still tough.
Nevertheless, SL managed to absolutely cakewalk a chase of 197, becoming the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa. It was a historic series win to give hope to a struggling side, and the beginning of the end for a Test powerhouse.
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1. England versus Sri Lanka 2014
The final series remaining is a real gem and one of the most underrated Test series.
The first half of the first Test was a real batter’s paradise. England posted a healthy score, Joe Root top scoring with 200*. SL responded decently with Kumar Sangakkara and skipper Angelo Mathews getting themselves on the Lord’s honour board.
However, England still had enough to make a game out of it, setting 389 to win on the final day. SL had to really dig deep, with Sangakkara once again standing strong with 61 (168). The match came down to the final over, bowled by Stuart Broad.
On the first ball, Rangana Herath was out caught, a wrong decision, which he didn’t review. A few balls later number 11 Nuwan Pradeep was given LBW. He reviewed, and it was a massive inside edge. On the last ball of the Test, with a result still on, the ball was edged and fell just inches short of second slip.
In the second game, both teams were desperate to win. England had a 100-plus first-innings lead and it could’ve been more given they were 3-311 and fell to 365. Captain Mathews again did brilliantly, scoring 160.
England were set an improbable 350, and then slumped to 5-57 at the end of Day 4. On Day 5 England showed magnificent fight and once again we had a down-to-the-wire thriller.
Moeen Ali had batted the whole day for 108, his maiden century and probably still his best innings. The tail were just about holding on.
On the second last ball of the series, the ball ballooned up off Jimmy Anderson’s glove and SL completed a historic win. Anderson fell for a 55-ball duck.
This was a Sri Lankan victory in their prime and also happens to be the last Test series that England have lost at home.