Throughout the history of professional sports there have been many great and memorable matches across a wide range of disciplines. As fans, we remember these moments long after having witnessed them and we tend to measure everything else against them. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game against the New York Knicks in 1962, Michael Jordan’s game winning shot in the 1998 NBA Finals, Ben Roethlisberger’s dramatic late drive down the field to win Super Bowl XLIII and the 1980 US men’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union – all examples of great performances and great games which will long be remembered.
Over more than the past 130 years, cricket has given us some remarkable matches in terms of both team and individual play. Whether tournament, One Day International (ODI) or Tests, there have been many matches which have produced jaw dropping scorelines, heroic efforts in the face of seemingly impossible odds or just plain amazing play on the field. Of course, the Ashes are integral to much of any discussion concerning the greatest cricket matches. That said, many of the greatest matches often have Australia involved in one way or another. The Pakistan-India rivalry, fuelled by off-field events, politics and nationalism are always a heated affair and bound to produce some great moments. Driving all of these great matches are the greatest cricket players. From Shane Warne and Shaun Pollock to Wasim Akram and Glenn McGrath to Ian Botham and Muttiah Muralitharan, there have been some real stars who have been central to producing some of cricket’s most memorable moments and matches.
The following list looks at 10 of the greatest cricket matches to ever take place. Naturally, such a selection is highly subjective and you likely have a rough top 10 in your head. That said, the following matches have been picked based on importance, how dramatic they were and what sorts of scorelines and individual efforts they produced. Australia finds itself involved in eight of the following matches – don’t smile too broadly Aussies, there’s a fair share of losses included. Look at it this way, when you are one of the best teams in the history of the sport, you will always have a target on you. When teams beat the Australians, it was usually a big deal and the match was usually very tense and action packed. This sets it up perfectly to be included on such a list. Now, before we give too much more away, we’ll let you take a look for yourself and see if you agree with the Top 10 Greatest cricket matches of all time.
15 England vs Australia, Centenary Test, Melbourne, 1977
A non-Ashes competition, the Centenary Test of 1977 marked the 100th anniversary of the first Test cricket played in Australia. Played between the 12th and 17th of March, the Test saw Australia square off against old rivals England in Melbourne. On the Australia side, the story was all about the bowling of Dennis Lillee. Australia secured 138 runs in their first innings before England took over batting. Lillee sent a strong message by immediately taking the wicket of the first batsman and finished the innings with an impressive 6 for 26. England were out with only 95 runs. In the second innings, the bats of both teams woke up. Australia struck for a massive 419 and England responded with an equally impressive 417 which was driven by Derek Randall’s 174. Again, however, England ran into Lillee who took another five wickets, bringing his total to 11. Australia claimed the first of what would be two Centenary Tests by 45 points, the exact same result of the 1877 Test.
14 India vs Australia, 5th ODI, Hyderabad, 2009
Heading into this match, Australia were the reigning ODI powerhouse. Most people probably expected a one-sided result or, at a minimum, a clear Aussie victory. The crowd that watched Australia bat first were probably left unsurprised by the first innings on that 5th of November. Australia, as expected, batted very well and used their maximum 50 overs to score 350 runs. Scoring was shared among the batsmen with Shaun Marsh leading the charge with 112 runs. Facing the task of scoring 351 in 50 overs, India looked to achieve the improbable. Enter Sachin Tendulkar. The India batter remained standing while other batsmen were bowled or caught out. Australia’s nerve seemed rattled as their players started making mistakes all over the field. By the end, Tendulkar scored 175 runs and almost single-handedly made up the run gap. It was not enough as Australia took a nail-biter by a mere three runs.
13 West Indies vs Australia, Cricket World Cup Final, Lord’s, 1975
The first edition of the ICC’s World Cup took place in England from the 7th to 21st of June. The last day of the tournament saw the final played between the West Indies and Australia. Batting first, the West Indies struck for 291 runs. Driving the offense was a 102 run performance by Clive Lloyd and 55 runs by countryman Rohan Kanhai. Gary Gilmour did most of the bowling damage by Australia, taking five wickets. Australia, for the most part had a decent innings at bat but threw it all away with their running. Five Australia batsmen were run out after trying to push for more runs after fielding mistakes by the West Indies. In the end, it turned out to be significant as the West Indies took victory by a slender 17 runs. The first World Cup title went to the West Indies while Australia were left wondering what could have been if their batsmen had been just a bit more cautious.
12 India vs England, NatWest Series Final, Lord’s, 2002
One of the most thrilling and dramatic ODIs played at Lord’s is surely the NatWest Final played between India and England in July, 2002. England, having won the coin toss, elected to bat first. They made the most of their innings by hitting for a massive 325 runs. More than two-thirds of England’s production came from batsmen Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain who both posted centuries. India responded with a memorable innings of their own. Run production was more evenly distributed by the Indian batsmen and included three half-centuries. Spectators at Lord’s watched as India chased down the English lead, the size of which had never been surmounted before, and win the final by just two wickets and three remaining balls.
11 New Zealand vs Australia, Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, Hamilton, 2007
The Chappell-Hadlee Trophy is a three ODI tournament played between New Zealand and Australia. In 2003, heading into the 3rd ODI, New Zealand sat at 2-0 in the series. The final match, played on the 20th February, turned into a real slugging match as both teamsbrought their bats in order to get bragging rights over their neighbor. Despite being without some of their main players, the Australians made a lot of noise during the opening innings by scoring 346 runs, including a fantastic individual display by Matthew Hayden who batted for 181 runs. Combined, six New Zealand bowlers could only take five wickets – Australia would, however, rue not taking advantage of this during their 50 overs. No New Zealand batsman could come close to Hayden’s record display. That said, led by Craig McMillan’s 117, Brendon McCullum’s 86 and Peter Fulton’s half-century, New Zealand stormed back to score 350, winning by 1 wicket.
10 Australia vs England, 1st Test, Kennington Oval, 1882
As far as the Ashes are concerned, this is the Test that started it all. It may have been over 130 years ago, but the pride and bragging rights for the winner remain the same. The game was so tense and so much was at stake that, reportedly, one fan died of a heart attack and another chewed through the handle on their umbrella. In any event, on the field, the scoreline was low compared to today’s matches. In the first innings, Australia hit a record low 63 all out before England responded with 101 of their own. The third innings witnessed the aussie recovery with 122. It proved to be just enough as England could only muster 75 runs, in large part thanks to bowler Fred Spofforth’s 7 for 44. The result was a shock for English cricket both on and off the field. Away from the match, the result led the Sporting Times to write up a mock obituary reporting on the death of English cricket. The obituary stated that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia – and so the series was born.
9 Essex vs Australia, Southchurch Park, 1948
In 1948, the Australians undertook a tour of England which came to be known as The Invincibles Tour of 1948. From April to September, the Aussies traveled around playing various school teams and cricket clubs, as well as the England team. In over 30 matches, they never lost once. Enter the Essex County cricket team. If you think this is going to be a story about an under-dog beating the favorite, look away. What happened on the field was one of the most one sided beatings to ever grace cricket. In their first innings at bat, Australia racked up a record 721 runs in 6 hours. The match was so one-sided that Australia batsmen Keith Miller, who had the team’s best batting average, stepped back and let Essex bowler Trevor Bailey hit the stumps. Some people think Miller wanted to enjoy other activities that day but Miller, himself, stated that he was tired of the one sided affair. In any event, Essex could come nowhere near making up the damage with their own two innings of batting and lost the match by a massive 451 runs. It set the tone for the rest of the Australian summer tour as they dismantled every team who dared face them.
8 Australia vs South Africa, World Cup Semi-Final, Edgbaston, 1999
Just four days before this match, Australia had defeated South Africa by 5 wickets in the Super Sic stage match. Just how important that game would turn out to be in the long run, no one could have known. The June 17th semi-final between Australia and South Africa took place at Edgbaston in Birmingham, England. South Africa won the toss but elected to field first, letting the Australians hit. South African bowler Shaun Pollock bowled 5 for 36 and helped limit the Australians to 213. Australia countered with their own bowling experts, including Shane Warne who went 4 for 29. South Africa, like their opponents, scored 213 runs in their innings. South Africa possibly had a chance to win the match but for a mix-up when Lance Klusener tried for a run while his partner at the other end, Allan Donald, stayed in place. The result was a run out and a draw. By the fact Australia had won the earlier Super Six match, they went through at South Africa’s expense.
7 India vs Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Rajkot, 2009
If a cricket match could ever be compared to boxing, this one was it. Like two heavy-weight boxers, India and Sri Lanka blasted away at each other with each side scoring more than 400 runs. Sri Lanka won the coin toss but elected to field first. The Indian batsmen made the most of their time, especially at the top order. The stand out batsmen was Virender Sehwag who hit for a massive 146 runs. By the time India had completed their overs they had amassed an impressive 414 runs. The task facing Sri Lanka was significant and looked insurmountable. That said, like the Indians, the top order for the Sri Lankans was devastating. Tillakaratne Dilshan had a stand out innings with 160 runs. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankans fell just short of victory, losing by a mere three runs which is incredible when you see that a combined 825 runs were scored over the course of the match.
6 Australia vs West Indies, WSC, Sydney, 1996
The fifth ODI of the Benson and Hedges WSC in 1996 saw Australia take on the West Indies at the Sydney cricket grounds. Heavy rains made it difficult for both sides to score runs. Nonetheless, the West Indies’ scoring was largely driven by Carl Hooper who hit for 93 runs and helped the West Indies to a 172 run innings. Australia’s run count was a little more distributed among its batsmen but it came down to Michael Bevan to decide Australia’s fate. Bevan had not had the best of bowling outings, ending up with the highest economy rating on the team. Nonetheless, with the last ball to be delivered, Bevan needed to hit for four to win. He did just that and handed Australia a stunning last gasp victory.
5 India vs Pakistan, Austral-Asia Cup, Sharjah, 1986
The final of the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup pitted two cricketing and political adversaries against one another. Pakistan fielded first in the sweltering heat of the United Arab Emirates. India batted well in their innings and managed 245 runs. Fielded, the Indian club also did well with an 89 point lead and 10 overs remaining. Then Javed Miandad came to bat for Pakistan. Often described as the greatest batsman to come out of Pakistan, Miandad showed why as he chipped the lead away. Coming right down to the wire, India needed one wicket and Pakistan four runs from the last ball. Miandad struck the ball into the crowd and scored six, giving Pakistan and the cricket world one of the most intense and memorable matches to ever be played.
4 South Africa vs Australia, Fifth ODI, Johannesburg, 2006
Leading up to this One Day International match, most of the money was on Australia to win. The Aussies always seem to have the South Africans’ number, taking three of four matches from them when the South Africans toured Australia earlier that season and losing out in the Test series. The fifth ODI was of even greater importance as the first four matches were split between the two sides. Each side was missing a key player with Australia’s Glenn McGrath and South Africa’s Shaun Pollock both out of contention. Australia, batting first, came out of the gates like a bull and recorded a record 434 run innings. It seemed all but over for the home team. Then, led by Herschelle Gibbs, the South Africans rallied and did the unthinkable. Having just watched the Australians set an ODI run record, they responded with a record of their own and hit for 438, winning by one wicket with just one ball to spare. The exploits of both teams mean this match definitely earns a place on any list of greatest matches.
3 England vs Australia, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, 2005
From 1989 up until 2005, Australia had dominated the Ashes series, consistently beating England to maintain their hold on the tournament. The 2005 Ashes started out badly for England with Australia winning the first match at Lords by 239 runs. The second match was bound to be different even before it started. Australian Glenn McGrath, so effective at Lords, injured himself before the match and had to be left out. Australia won the toss and chose to bowl – a decision they would come to regret. Led by Andrew Flintoff, England smashed in 407 runs in their first innings which was only the second time the team had achieved that since the 1940s. World class bowling from Shane Warne and inspired batting from Flintoff made it difficult to know who exactly would end up winning the match. Heading into the final innings, Australia needed 282 for victory. Mistakes by England and dogged determination by Australian batsmen like Warne, Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee ground the England lead down and made the crowd nervous. It was not, however, to be Australia’s day and they fell short by a mere two runs.
2 England vs Australia, 3rd Test, Headingley, 1981
Between the 16th and 21st of July 1981, old rivals met once again in what became one of the most memorable Ashes Tests. Australia batted first and achieved an impressive 401 for 9. England had their work cut out for them but could only manage 174 all out in their first batting innings. Obliged to take a follow-on, the England bats suddenly woke up. Inspired by Ian Botham’s 149, the English batsmen scored 356 all out setting up an interesting second batting innings for Australia, who needed a very attainable 130 runs. Unfortunately for the Aussies, Bob Willis produced a career performance, bowling 8 for 43 and helping to limit the Australian production to 111 all out. In an absolutely stunning reversal, Australia had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, losing by 18 runs. The result changed the course of the series and England went on to win 3-1.
1 India vs Australia, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 2001
Heading into the March 11th-15th 2nd Test between India and Australia, all indications were that the Aussies were going to add another victory to their impressive record. Up until that point, Australia had set a record 16 Test victories in a row and were rated the best team in the world. To make matters worse, in the 2nd Test, India had failed to score enough runs in their first batting innings that they were forced to follow-on – or take their second batting innings immediately. A betting man would not have put a cent on India winning the match. Trailing by more than 270 runs after their first batting innings, Indian batsmen VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid stepped forward and turned the Test on its head on day four. The two batted for the entire the day and gave India 589/4, a lead of 315 runs. The final day of the Test required Australia to achieve 384 in 75 overs. It couldn’t be done and India took home a 171 run victory over the favorites from down under.