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Going Out on Top – Part Two

Harold Larwood
Harold Larwood - cast out through politics

Martin recently posted a piece on Seymour Nurse, highlighting how that elegant West Indian had departed the Test arena with a phenomenal innings of 258 against New Zealand, which feature got me thinking about other players who had gone out on a high. Nurse, of course, retired of his own volition and, though there were rumours of dressing room tension, he was nnonetheless able to draw his own veil.

Not everyone has that option, however. Harold Larwood is a famous example of how politics, or policies, can interfere with a promising sporting career, cast out as the main executioner of Douglas Jardine’s Bodyline tactics. Clarrie Grimmett is another, he who fell foul of Don Bradman’s highly-esteemed selection preference, and whose main crime seems to have been that of not being Bill O’Reilly – dropped after taking 44 wickets in South Africa in 1936/37 Grimmett never again played for Australia, though in truth other than the 1938 tour of England for which he was overlooked he was never likely to be selected after the war, by which time he was in his mid-fifties. Grimmett took no fewer than 13 wickets in his final Test, though that is not quite as good as the great Sydney Barnes, whose 17/159 against South Africa in his final Test series, which remained a record until 1956 and Laker’s match, was buttressed by a 14-wicket performance in his last Test.

Barnes was still at the height of his powers at that time, despite being already 41, and being too old for military service he instead blitzed the Bradford League, taking 904 wickets at 5.26. He was invited to tour Australia in 1920-21 but declined when it became clear that his family’s expenses would not be covered. Even at 55 he was skittling out the West Indian tourists with 12/128 while turning out for Wales in 1928, followed by 8/41 against the South Africans the following year – what a phenomenon he was.

Others don’t even know at the time of their last Test that they’ve retired, when affairs of state take a hand and democracy fails, sending fine young men off to defend their nation. No career was more tragically curtailed than that of Hedley Verity, killed in action during the Second World War aged 43. Not quite so tragic, but tremendously sad nonetheless, is the story of Gilbert Jessop – suffering from lumbago while enlisted he was being treated with a very hot steam bath and, having become trapped accidentally, his health was never again the same as a result. Jessop was 44 when the war ended.

Even those who weren’t injured during the war are often cast aside as a result of the playing hiatus, with the likes of Stan McCabe, Jack Fingleton and Les Ames missing prime playing years as hostilities intervened.

Of course the ostracisation of South Africa in 1970 also saw a premature end to several potentially glorious careers, as the shining talents of Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter, Eddie Barlow and Barry Richards were denied the cricket-watching public.

Finally, there are those whose first match is also their last despite a great performance, such as Rodney Redmond (century on debut) and Charles Marriott (eleven wickets).

But there are enough players who get to bask in the glory of an announced retirement, knowing that this Test will be their last, and who nonetheless light up the stage as they have done in the past – players of the calibre of Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell with the bat, and Richard Hadlee and Dennis Lillee with the ball.

Back to Nurse, and I had wondered where his performance sits in the great pantheon of final Test performances – of course, I have a way to measure this; two ways, actually. Using match impact, we can look at which final Test performance had the most impact on his team’s chances of winning, plus we can look at the player’s final impact rating, based on his last five Tests. For this piece, I’ll look solely at the impact of the player during his final match.

Martin’s piece on Nurse was referring more to his last Test, but in fact Nurse had another great performance in the first Test of that final series against New Zealand, with a first innings 168. Nonetheless, his final Test match performance rates at 44.92%, one of the highest ever in a final Test – more on that later.

Nurse’s performance isn’t the highest total runs scored by a batsman in his final Test however – Andy Sandham fashioned innings of 50 and 325 against West Indies in 1929/30, and Nurse is also just behind Bill Ponsford’s 266 in England in 1934. Nonetheless, Nurse’s finale had more individual impact than those performances, though Nurse does not have the highest impact of a retiring batsman.

As regards bowlers, how does the aforementioned Barnes’ 14-wicket haul rate in terms of impact? And which all-rounder excelled as he bowed out? Below is a discussion of the highest-rated final Tests ever in terms of impact.

Shane Warne, 2/92 and 71 vs England 2005/06
Ironically for a bowler with 700 wickets, it was Warne’s batting which shone in his final match, a glorious knock of 71 from just 69 balls putting Australia out of sight of England in the final Ashes Test of 2005/06, including 9 fours and two sixes.

Tony Lock, 3/83, 1 catch, 89 & 2 vs West Indies 1967/68
Lock also surprised with the bat in his final Test as only Geoffrey Boycott was able to top his score of 89 at number nine, which was in fact his highest score in First-Class cricket. Coming in at 259/8 he pushed the score to 371 all out, though the match was drawn.

Nasser Hussain, 34 & 103*, 3 catches vs New Zealand 2004
Nasser’s send-off proved to be a great match, from Andrew Strauss’s debut ton, through Chris Cairns’ violent 82 from 47 balls, then finally to Hussain’s unbeaten century as England chased down 282. Note that no impact points were deducted for running out Strauss short of his second ton.

Harold Larwood, 5/142, 1 catch and 98 vs Australia 1932/33
Of course, Larwood had no idea at the time that this would be his final match. Once again, a bowler had most of his final match impact with the bat, though of course that was not the case for most of the so-called “Bodyline” series. Sent in as nightwatchman after Sutcliffe was dismissed, Larwood first shared a partnership of 92 with Walter Hammond, then added 65 with Maurice Leyland, being dismissed just short of a Test century. He received a great reception from the Australian crowd.

Learie Constantine, 6/172 and 79 vs England 1939
After a five-for in England’s first innings, Constanting capped West Indies reply with 79 out of 109, with eleven fours and a six. His fielding was also to the fore, as he threw down the wicket from cover in what Wisden described as “amazing style” while, commenting on his batting, the almanack reported “he revolutionised all the recognised features of cricket…surpassing Bradman in his amazing stroke play”.

Greg Chappell, 0/25, 3 catches, 182 vs Pakistan 1983/84
This was a momentous match for Greg Chappell in many ways. He announced that this was to be his last match after the second day’s play, and next day crafted an innings of 182 in 526 minutes, in the process overtaking Don Bradman’s 6996 runs to become Australia’s number one. The three catches were important too, as he moved past Colin Cowdrey for the world record number of catches in Test cricket. He was unsurprisingly named Man of the Match.

Basil Butcher, 35 & 91 vs England 1969
Butcher top scored in each innings, his 91 being described by Wisden as “brilliant” as he put West Indies in a strong position at 219/3 chasing 303. Out to a disputed catch, his dismissal presaged a collapse such that they would end up 30 runs shy of victory.

Sarfraz Nawaz, 5/161, 90 and 10* vs England 1983/84
After Pakistan could only manage 181 for their first eight wickets, Sarfraz shared a ninth wicket stand of 161 with Zaheer – his 90 easily beat his previous highest in Tests of 45. Set 243 to win, Pakistan got to within 44 with eight overs left, but after three wickets fell in one over Sarfraz and Rameez Raja played out for the series-clinching draw. Sarfraz was named Man of the Match.

Tom Richardson, 10/204, 6 & 1 vs Australia 1897/98
England’s first innings lead of 96 was down to Richardson’s bowling, according to Wisden, however he couldn’t prevent Australia knocking off the 275 required for victory with six wickets in hand.

Seymour Nurse, 258 vs New Zealand 1968-69
This performance was dealt with in detail by Martin in this feature.

Bobby Peel, 8/53 vs Australia 1896
Needing just 110 for victory, a clandestine overnight watering of the Oval pitch prior to the third day enabled Peel to spin out Australia for just 44, taking 6/23. This performance earned him a gold watch from Stanley Jackson.

Sunil Gavaskar, 21 & 96 vs Pakistan 1986/87
After four draws, both India and Pakistan had a real chance to win when India were set 221 to win on a difficult surface – the three previous innings had averaged just 170. While Gavaskar was at the crease an Indian win was still possible, but after making 96 out of 180 while seven of his compatriots fell by the wayside, he was himself out and, though India only needed 31, without Gavaskar India’s last real chance of victory was gone. Despite the Indian loss, his contribution was recognised with the match award.

Jack Russell, 140 & 111, 1 catch vs South Africa 1922/23
Russell’s was a fantastic performance. In England’s first innings, he produced a knock of 140 out of 281 all out, while only one other player could manage more than 15. Despite a lead of 102, England then collapsed in the second innings to 26/4 before Russell joined Andrew Sandham, the pair adding 76. When Sandham fell, England then lost four more wickets with just 47 more added, so at 149/9 Russell was joined by Arthur Gilligan. Gilligan proved a willing foil for Russell and 92 more were added, setting South Africa a target of 344 which proved beyond them. Russell finished with 111. All the while he had been suffering from an illness which should have prevented him from playing.

Chris Cairns, 9/187, 12 & 1 vs England 2004
At his adopted home of Trent Bridge, Cairns bowed out holding the record for most sixes in Test cricket, having wrested that honour from Viv Richards. As Wisden noted, Cairns, 34, “coaxed his creaking body through a near-heroic effort to mark his Test farewell.” Taking out Strauss with his first ball, then the important wickets of Vaughan and Flintoff, Cairns gave New Zealand a chance before Graham Thorpe’s century saw England across the line.

The number one final Test performance in terms of impact was that of Sydney Barnes with the aforementioned 14/144 at Durban in 1913/14. Some will point to the lack of batting quality which the South Africans presented at that time, though for this exercise I haven’t taken that into account, rather this is from a pure impact perspective with all other aspects being considered equal. Nonetheless, Herbie Taylor and Dave Nourse were no slouches and but for time lost due to rain and bad light England would probably have lost. Barnes can’t be blamed for that though, as he took seven wickets in each innings.

It’s no surprise for me to see Barnes at the top of this list. As I’ve written before, on a per-test basis Barnes is the most impactful Test cricketer of all-time.

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