This is the second article looking at how Test matches finish. In this article we will look at the bowlers who have been there most often at the finish to snatch victory and we will also take note of their hapless victims.
Bowlers taking the final wickets
In the famous Test at the Oval in August 1882 that birthed ‘the Ashes’, most know that Fred ‘The Demon’ Spofforth taking 14 wickets to win after exclaiming to his teammates that “This thing can be done”.
However it is mostly forgotten that fellow bowler Harry Boyle actually took the final two wickets to steal the Test by just 7 runs. This section is for Harry.
425 different bowlers have had the satisfaction of taking the final wicket in a Test, from all-time greats through to part timers and one-test wonders.
The first player to ever finish a Test, Australian Tom Kendall, took 7 wickets in that final innings of the first test and only played on more test. For every Glenn McGrath, next on the alphabetical list is there is a Goofy Lawrence (for South Africa over New Zealand in 1962).
Other unlikely players who took the final wickets in tests include all-time great batter Sachin Tendulkar (who did it twice), and the Universe Boss himself Chris Gayle (who once took the final 3 wickets to finish a Test).
But of course there are certain players who are regularly called on to do the business. Here are the top 10. (Note: the numbers in brackets indicate how often the bowler took not just the final wicket, but each of the last 3, or at least 2 of the last 3 to fall in the match)
Shane Warne (AUS) – 22 (6 times took the last 3 wickets – 12 times took 2 of the last 3)
Warne’s most common methods to take his final wicket were caught in the field (9) and LBW (6). Warne was the ultimate tail mopper, plus of course his team were the ultimate winners, giving him many opportunities to add to this tally. Warne finished off just over 15 percent of all the Test matches he played.
Ravichandran Ashwin (IND) – 22 (6,6)
Seven of Ashwin’s last wicket victims have been bowled. This matches Muthiah Muralidaran as the bowler who has knocked over the stumps the most to end a match, truly the most satisfying way to finish. Ashwin will definitely finish his career on top of this list. He has finished off a whopping 25.6% of all test matches he has played.
Muthiah Muralidaran (SL) – 18 (3,9)
Includes seven bowled dismissals. 13.5% of Tests played.
Rangana Herath (SL) – 14 (3,8)
15.1% of Tests played.
Waqar Younis (PAK)
13 (2,5) includes 6 bowled dismissals. 14.9% of Tests played.
Glenn McGrath (AUS)
12 (2,7) includes 7 dismissals caught by either the keeper or slips. 9.7% of tests played. His chances to finish test matches were obviously impacted by the blond leg spinner up the other end.
Dale Steyn (SA)
12 (1,7) includes 6 bowled dismissals. 12.9% of Tests played.
Harbhajan Singh (IND)
11 (1,7). 10.7% of Tests played.
Mitchell Johnson (AUS)
10 (1,4) includes 6 bowled dismissals. 13.7% of Tests played.
Nathan Lyon (AUS)
10 (1,4). 9.3% of Tests played.
Falling just outside the top 10 are such greats as: (% of career tests they finished off are in brackets)
Spinners Clarrie Grimmett (AUS) (21.6%), Lance Gibbs (WI) (11.4%), Anil Kumble (IND) (6.1%), Graeme Swann (ENG) (15%) and Stuart MacGill (AUS) (15.9%), and
Pacemen Stuart Broad (5.3%) and Jimmy Anderson (4.1%) (ENG), Trent Boult (NZ) (10.7%), Makhaya Ntini (SA) (7.9%) and Courtney Walsh (WI) (6.1%).
Just to point out a couple of other noted bowlers. Dennis Lillee only took the final wicket in a Test twice, as did Bill O’Reilly. Contrast McGrath and Grimmett above respectively. Obviously some were not as suited at winding up the tail as others.
The great Pakistan all-rounder Imran Khan finished off a Test match six times, and in all six instances he clean bowled the final batter.
Bowlers taking the final wickets – doing it all themselves
As we saw above, both Shane Warne and Ravi Ashwin took the final three wickets to finish Tests matches all by themselves on a record six separate occasions. But sometimes a bowler gets on a real streak.
24 players have taken the final four wickets. The great 1980s all-rounders Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee each did this twice, but Shane Warne managed it three times.
13 players have taken the final five wickets, including England’s 19th Century star Johnny Briggs (ENG) who took the last 5, all bowled, against South Africa back in 1889. This was nearly matched by West Indian Curtley Ambrose.
At Bridgetown in 1990 the final 4 of his 5 wickets to clean up England were all LBW. The only Australians to finish a match by taking the final 5 wickets are seamers Ray Lindwall and Max Walker.
Two players have taken the last 6 wickets to fall, being legendary Australian leg spinner Clarrie Grimmett and great England fast bowler Fred Trueman.
Five bowlers took the last 7: Hugh Trumble (AUS), Syd Barnes and Ian Botham (ENG), Hugh Tayfield (SA) and finally Sarfraz Nawaz from Pakistan who famously got on a reverse swinging rampage against Australia in Melbourne in 1979.
Former world record wicket taking off spinner Lance Gibbs from the West Indies once took the last 8 wickets to fall. Although runs were being scored at the other end, Gibbs took his last five wickets while conceding zero runs from his bowling.
But none of these can of course match those famous occasions when a bowler took all 10 wickets in an innings. In both instances, England’s Jim Laker and Indian Anil Kumble did this in the final innings of the test to win for their respective teams. New Zealand’s Ajaz Patel was not so lucky in 2021, being on the end of a 372 run thrashing.
For nearly 60 percent of final dismissals the bowlers have had to rely on a teammate in the field to make the absolute final play, whether a spectacular outfield grab, a regulation keeper catch or a comical run out.
Amongst keepers, Mark Boucher stands out. South Africa used to win a lot and their pitches are made for catches behind the wicket. Boucher has finished a match with a dismissal 10 times, ahead of Australia’s Brad Haddin and Adam Gilchrist with 7 apiece. Amazingly, long term keepers Alan Knott and Rod Marsh only got to finish a match twice and once respectively.
As for outfielders, it hardly seems fair that the one to have sent down that final ball most was also the fielder to have finished most Tests – Shane Warne has taken the final catch 6 times in his career. Next comes Ian Chappell with 5 catches – more celebrated slip catching brother Greg only did it twice. Those to take the final catch 4 times are Australians Alan Border, Ricky Ponting and (somehow) Glenn McGrath and South African Vernon Philander.
South Africa’s Aiden Markram currently holds a unique record. He is the only player to achieve victory for his side twice via a run out. Australians seem to have a gift for running batters out at the death. Consider this list to have thrown down the stumps to finish a match: Adam Gilchrist, Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins, Steve Waugh and Steven Smith.
The losing batters – The long walk back to the pavilion
As you would expect it is the poor bowlers, let down by their flashy batting teammates, who most often make the long walk back with the opposition celebrating wildly around them. Some bunnies had a real knack for it:
James Anderson (ENG) – 18
Yes Jimmy has played a long time to rack up this particular record, but it still warms the heart. Anderson is a very generous batter, he has found virtually every single way to end a Test, with no particular mode of dismissal standing out.
He has been bowled, pinned LBW, caught everywhere in the field, including by the bowler and even run out. Anderson has taken the last wicket 7 times in his career, but been the last man more than double that.
Chris Martin (NZ) – 13
Was there ever any doubt? Unlike Anderson, The Phantom liked to keep it simple, being bowled or LBW on 9 out of 13 occasions. He too, was run out once to finish a match. Martin finished nearly 1 in 5 of his tests as the last man out in a loss.
West Indies’ Shannon Gabriel is the player working hard to become the new Chris Martin. He has already been bowled 6 times to finish a match.
Muthiah Muralidaran (SL) – 13
Murali liked to finish with a flourish being stumped three times. No other player in history has been out stumped even twice to finish a match. He is also the only player to be out caught and bowled twice to end a Test.
Courtney Walsh (WI) – 11 and Nathan Lyon (AUS) – 11 round out the top 5. At least Lyon and Murali make the list of most winning and losing plays to finish tests, so that is some consolation for the two off spinners.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Abbas is the only player in history to have been run out twice to finish tests. South Africa’s Aiden Markram and Australia’s Pat Cummins have both found him short of his ground.
Some poor tailenders are just unlucky. South African great Allan Donald was last man out in test losses four times. His tormentors include Curtley Ambrose, Glenn McGrath and Waqar Younis. Good luck with that! (his other dismissal was to Paul Reiffel. Sorry Pistol but you didn’t quite belong in that company).
Darren Gough (ENG), Makhaya Ntini (SA) and Zaheer Khan (IND) share the dubious privilege of being the only batters to be dismissed to finish a match by both of the great spin bowlers of the age, Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralidaran.
As noted above, New Zealand’s Chris Martin gave every bowler a decent chance to close out a test, but many better bats than The Phantom would have fallen to a selection like this: Steyn, Sharma, Anderson, Johnson, Ashwin and Warne.
But I think the poor soul I feel for most is India’s noted bunny from the 1970’s, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar. His list of dismissals include the following bowlers. Andy Roberts, Jeff Thomson, Michael Holding and Richard Hadlee. All without a helmet. Time to take up a new hobby!
But then there is Graeme Dilley from England. He copped Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson. His other dismissal to lose a test was a run out. I’d have been getting to the other end too!
Nest time we will look at those batters who have been lucky enough to hit the winning runs.