Top 10 Tests on England soil: The background

Did Edgbaston '05 beat Headingley '81 in the countdown?

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The Independent Online

There are 487 candidates for the title of ‘Greatest Test On Home Soil’, including last week’s topsy-turvey thriller against New Zealand at Lord’s, so choosing the top 10 was always going to prove a devilish and controversial treat. Luckily we could consign most of the 1990s to the dustbin of history but that still a conundrum of classics.

Some Tests - Headingley ’81 and Edgbaston ’05 – are so enshrined in cricket mythology that their presence is obligatory. It is only the ordering that proved problematic. For others, contemporary accounts believed we would remember them always but memory is finite and fades. 1966 is etched forever on England’s sporting consciousness but for lovers of leather and willow, 1966 will always be the ‘Summer of Sobers’. Sir Garfield’s remarkable Test-saving partnership at the home of cricket with his young cousin David Holford, who was winning only his second cap, is deservedly brought back from the dusty annals of the past.

There are other matches and their pretensions to greatness that even a goldfish could recall, such as last week’s Ben Stokes-fuelled fireworks at Lord’s. Even veteran cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, once of this parish, said: “It might be the best Test match I have seen and I have watched about 700 of them.” And that Test came less than 12 months on from the last-over drama at Headingley that saw an emotional James Anderson one ball from the greatest of escapes.

From great calamity often comes great drama, like at Lord’s in 2000 when the crowd witnessed four innings in one collapse-filled day. In truth, the standard of cricket over those three turn-of-the-century days did not justify inclusion in such a list. Occasionally, as with Don Bradman’s Lord’s debut and Jim Laker’s 19 wickets, the excellence of the individual raises a Test to greatness all by itself.

Ultimately, the top three were separated by the thinnest of edges but Headingley ’81 took the honours due, among many other reasons, to: the myriad subplots at play (Botham’s return to the ranks for one); the logic-obliterating extent of the comeback (at one point England were three wickets away from an innings defeat with 92 runs still needed); individual excellence (Willis’ 8 for 43); and the desperation of the alternative outcome (a 2-0 deficit with two to play).

Three Headingley howlers

Andy Ducat, 1921

In his only Test, Ducat’s bat broke on impact with a Ted McDonald riser, the splinter flew back, broke the stumps and the ball ended up in slip’s hands – out twice in one shot!

Inzamam-ul-Haq, 2006

Pakistan’s batting behemoth caused carnage when missed a sweep against Monty Panesar, was hit in the midriff, lost his balance and collapsed on to his stumps.

Karl Power, 2001

The professional imposter, dressed in full whites and disguised under a helmet, emulated his Manchester United feat by marching out to bat alongside Nasser Hussain.