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Best of the Tests at the Gabbatoir

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Australia_Cricket_Ashes_GabbaThe countdown to the much-awaited Ashes opener is entering its last lap. England will begin their defense of the urn at the Gabba, or rather, the ‘Gabbatoir’, considering Australia’s awe-inspiring record at the venue. The Baggy Greens have been unbeaten in Brisbane since 1989-90 – a staggering run of 28 Test matches – and it remains to be seen whether Joe Root’s hopefuls have it in them to breach this near-impregnable fortress.

While Australia’s domination in the last three decades has led to many one-sided affairs, the Gabba, which invariably hosts the first Test of an Aussie tour, has seen its fair share of exhilarating Test cricket ever since the ground made its Test debut back in 1931-32. From the mesmerising Tied Test in 1960-61 to Pakistan’s daring surge towards a mammoth target last season, Brisbane has witnessed excitement aplenty, which has added to the undying charm of the five-day game.  

Here is a look at five classic Test matches contested at the Gabba over the years.

1) Australia v West Indies, First Test, 1951-52

Australia overcame a spirited West Indian challenge to emerge victorious by three wickets in the opening Test of the five-Test rubber. The West Indies lost their openers with only 18 on the board, and the innings never really got going, terminating at an uninspiring 216 on the first day. Australia did little better, managing only a ten-run lead, thanks to left-arm spinner Alf Valentine’s 5/99. Ray Lindwall biffed a breezy 61 at number seven to add to his four wickets.

The West Indies faltered again in their second attempt, ending the second day at a troublesome 88/4. Everton Weekes stood tall with 70, while Gerry Gomez did his bit with a spunky 55. Leg-spinner Doug Ring starred for the hosts with 6/80. Set 236 to win, Australia had the edge as they began the fourth day at 108/2. Off-spinner Sonny Ramadhin (5/90) tried his best to stall the chase, but a mature 45* from Graeme Hole steered his side to victory from a wobbly 149/5.  

2) Australia v West Indies, First Test, 1960-61

History was created at the Gabba as the first ever Tied Test was played out between two star-filled sides. The first day belonged to Garfield Sobers, who struck an imperious 132 to lay the foundation for the West Indies’ 453. Left-arm paceman Alan Davidson collected 5/135. The Australian reply revolved around Norman O’Neill’s career-best 181, handing the home side a first-innings lead of 52 as the third day drew to a close.

Davidson (6/87) led the way again, finishing with ten wickets in the Test, as the West Indies lost their last six for 74 to be bowled out for 284. Frank Worrell, who became the first black cricketer to captain the West Indies in an entire series, top-scored with 65. Australia’s target was 233, but that seemed a mere fantasy when Wes Hall (5/63) was destroying the top order, reducing the score to 57/5. It further became 92/6, bringing Richie Benaud and Davidson together.

The duo proceeded to share 134 runs for the seventh wicket to turn the game on its head. Davidson was run out in the penultimate over for a brilliant 80, leaving Australia to score six from the final eight-ball over to be bowled by Hall, with three wickets in hand. Wally Grout took a single from the first ball, before Benaud was caught behind off the next for 52. Five to win from six deliveries, Ian Meckiff the new man in.

A dot ball and two singles followed. Three from three, as the tension began to reach boiling point. Meckiff sent the sixth ball to mid-wicket; two runs were taken, but Conrad Hunte’s throw to the keeper ran Grout out. One run needed from two balls, one wicket standing. Number eleven Lindsay Kline pushed the ball to square leg and took off for the single. However, Joe Solomon pounced on the ball, and with one stump to aim at, ran Meckiff out to secure a heart-stopping tie.  

3) Australia v India, First Test, 1977-78

Australia’s cream of the crop were missing in action due to the exodus to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, but that did not stop the hosts from clinching a humdinger, despite fielding six debutants. Leading the side was 41-year-old Bob Simpson, who returned to Test cricket after nearly a decade. Visiting captain Bishan Singh Bedi drew first blood, capturing 5/55 with his left-arm spin to help skittle Australia out for 166.

It could have been worse, as the score was 49/5 at one stage, before debutant Peter Toohey steadied the ship with a gallant 82 from number six. In reply, India were well set at 90/2 with Dilip Vengsarkar and Gundappa Viswanath in the middle. However, the latter’s dismissal to Tony Mann’s leg-spin opened the floodgates for Australia. The last eight wickets tumbled for just 63, giving Simpson’s men a slender lead of 13.

Australia had a disastrous start to their second innings, crashing to 7/3 against India’s medium pacers, led by Madan Lal (5/72). Redemption came from Simpson, who shared in stands of 93 with David Ogilvie and 84 with Toohey (who impressed again with 57) for the fourth and fifth wickets respectively. The skipper went on to score 89, batting resolutely for over five hours. A last-wicket stand worth 50 between Jeff Thomson and Alan Hurst further frustrated the Indians.

India were set 341 for their first win on Australian soil, and began the fourth day at 51/1. The Australian bowlers kept chipping away with regular wickets, even as Sunil Gavaskar kept India in the contest, scoring a measured 113. When the opener was sixth out to Wayne Clark, India still needed 98. Syed Kirmani (55) and Bedi put on 43 for the ninth wicket, but it was not enough as Australia squeezed home by 16 runs. Clark returned match figures of 8/147 on debut.        

4) Australia v New Zealand, First Test, 2001-02

Steve Waugh’s all-conquering Australians were considered invincible at home, but they found a stiff challenge in Stephen Fleming’s Black Caps, who managed to hold them to a 0-0 stalemate in the three-Test series. The closest of the draws came in the opener at the Gabba. Openers Justin Langer (104) and Matthew Hayden put on 224 before New Zealand fought back admirably to take six for 39. Australia finished the first day at 294/6.

The pendulum swung again as Adam Gilchrist smote 118 on a rain-hit second day, enabling Australia to declare at 486/9. Rain proceeded to affect the third and fourth days as well. New Zealand slipped to 55/4, before Nathan Astle (66) ensured that they went into the final day at a relatively safer 186/5. He shared in a 95-run stand for the sixth wicket with Chris Cairns, who cracked a quick 61 to add to his figures of 5/146.

With the follow-on mark overhauled, Fleming came up with a sporting declaration at 287/8 just before lunch. Waugh, being the aggressive captain he was, soon announced his own intentions, declaring Australia’s second innings at 84/2. New Zealand were thus set an alluring 284 runs to win from 57 overs. New Zealand stumbled to 90/3 in the 25th over, but Fleming (57) and Astle (49) put the chase back on track with a fourth-wicket partnership of 100 in less than 19 overs.

Astle’s dismissal brought Cairns to the middle, at which point the requirement was 94 from 83 balls. Fleming was run out soon after, but Cairns charged at the Australians with 43 off 38 balls. With 20 needed off 11 balls, Cairns was caught by Ricky Ponting on the boundary off Brett Lee. With their power hitter gone, New Zealand lost steam and finished at 274/6, just ten short of a stunning victory.

5) Australia v Pakistan, First Test, 2016-17

This was the first day-night Test to be played at the Gabba. A fourth-wicket partnership of 172 between captain Steve Smith (130) and Peter Handscomb (105) formed the fulcrum of Australia’s formidable 429. Pakistan were soon staring at annihilation, as the Australian pace attack left them tottering at 67/8 under lights, before eventually bowling them out for 142. Only Sarfraz Ahmed displayed any resolve, with 59*.

Smith declared at 202/5 in the second dig, with seven sessions remaining. A fourth-day finish beckoned as Pakistan, chasing 490, fell to 220/6 in the second session. However, Asad Shafiq was not going to go down without a fight. He gave the hosts the jitters with a sublime 137, shepherding the tail with stands of 92, 66 and 71 for the seventh, eighth and ninth wickets. Australia were only too relieved when the innings finished at 450, before dinner on the final day.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket blogger and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of Test...

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