Matthew Hoggard brings Graeme Smith to his knees

Grounded: Matthew Hoggard traps Graeme Smith leg-before during the classic 2004-05 series

Tom Shaw / © Getty Images

High Fives


India and England play five Tests this summer, rare for a non-Ashes series. We pick five modern classics of the genre

Osman Samiuddin  |  

England v Pakistan, 1992
Pakistan 2, England 1
Only DRS and Twitter could have made this series any more explosive and entertaining than it was. Pakistan distilled the essence of an entire existence through the five Tests: rowdily led, obscenely gifted, as likely to implode as explode upon the opposition. The headline theme was Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis' reverse swing, which perforated an obdurate England side led by the obdurate Graham Gooch. The close finish in the second Test at Lord's was the highlight, but there was enough in every other Test to merit a book: umpiring dust-ups, tabloid hounding, player antipathy and revenge (for England's World Cup final loss earlier that year). It only warrants a footnote that it was thought to be the most lucrative series in England until then.

Australia v West Indies, 1992-93
West Indies 2, Australia 1
There was one great Test in this series, of course, the fourth, in Adelaide, which West Indies won by one run. But there was so much else besides - primarily that the contest happened at just the right moment, one team on the way down meeting another on the way up. West Indies took it but Australia's dominance over the first half was a rehearsal for their wresting of the crown in the Caribbean a couple of years later. The series turned, fittingly, on the arrival of Brian Lara and his resounding 277 in the New Year's Test in Sydney. Shane Warne, not as loudly, was also arriving, but looming over a starry cast was the moody brilliance of Curtly Ambrose, the man most responsible for West Indies' win. As Tim May put it: "He was hunting us down."

England v South Africa, 1998
England 2, South Africa 1
A stupendous heist or a long drawn-out choke? Either way, England's win merely made a great series more dramatic. South Africa were not the best side in the world and were already thought of as rigid automatons. Yet only Australia were definitively better. England? At best they were less bad than they had been for a while. They were made to follow on in two successive Tests and could conceivably have lost every one of the five. For the manner of their triumph, it was apt that Mike Atherton was the leading scorer from either side, dragging England away from lost causes to improbable non-defeats. The leading wicket-taker was Allan Donald, and it was the electric duel between the two at Trent Bridge that formed the centrepiece of a classic. The umpiring, Javed Akhtar's, notoriously, was bad enough to spice it further; so bad that the next summer, technology would embed itself in adjudication.

Richie Richardson (in sunglasses) and Brian Lara celebrate West Indies' 2-1 series win, Perth, 1993

Richie Richardson (in sunglasses) and Brian Lara celebrate West Indies' 2-1 series win, Perth, 1993 © Getty Images

England v West Indies, 2000
England 3, West Indies 1
Any of three successive West Indian visits to England, in 1991, 1995 and 2000, could be picked. The last wins out for just how cockamamie crazy it was. West Indies were in fatal decline. They had not won a Test outside the Caribbean since February 1997 and had lost ten consecutively away from home. At Edgbaston they won by an innings, inside three days. Once they lost the next, a thrilling match at Lord's, they imploded spectacularly. Darren Gough, Andy Caddick, Craig White and Dominic Cork made for an eccentric yet effective attack. Caddick took four wickets in one mental over at Headingley, where West Indies' 61 was not even their lowest total of the series. The Test lasted two days. By the time they rocked home at The Oval, England had imbued history to proceedings, securing the Wisden Trophy for the first time in 27 years. It was not the best cricket but it was unmissable.

South Africa v England, 2004-05
England 2, South Africa 1
The last great non-Ashes five-Test series was the last genuine one (England's tour to the Caribbean in 2009 only became five Tests after one was abandoned). Michael Vaughan's alchemy had forged a formidable England side, now slap-bang in the middle of a golden phase. South Africa were in transition, debuting both Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers. But they were at home, where, since readmission, they had lost only two of 20 series, and those to Australia. It was genuinely impossible to pick a winner. That England eventually scraped through had much to do with Andrew Strauss and the pace attack, which, even with a misfiring Steve Harmison, had developed into a wonderfully varied and incisive one. It was the least celebrated of them, Matthew Hoggard, who played the decisive hand late in the series, in the fourth Test at the Wanderers. His 12 wickets, seven expertly swung out on the final day, saw England home with barely any time to spare.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National